The Japanese government exercised Wednesday its "right to question" the Unification Church for the second time, as it continues investigating the controversial religious group with an eye on a court order to remove the organization's status as a religious corporation with tax benefits.

In the latest round of inquiries following the first one in November, culture minister Keiko Nagaoka requested the organization to submit documents related to 22 past civil lawsuits that found it responsible for illegal practices in fundraising and recruiting, sources close to the matter said.

File photo taken in September 2022 shows the name Family Federation for World Peace and Unification at a building housing the Unification Church in Tokyo. (Kyodo)

The group's alleged malicious fundraising practices came under intensified scrutiny following the fatal shooting of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in July.

His attacker, Tetsuya Yamagami, has said he held a grudge against the church because his mother made considerable donations to it, leaving his family in financial ruin.

The latest inquiry also asked the organization to present documents related to a 2009 pledge to strengthen compliance, including a vow not to solicit donations by invoking negative "ancestral karma."

The deadline for responding to the latest questions has been set for Jan. 6.

The Cultural Affairs Agency said it will evaluate the group's current efforts in keeping its compliance pledge and investigate how it implemented measures to prevent problematic fundraising practices.

Through this probe and the one launched last month, the government seeks to assess whether the church has been systematically involved in soliciting massive, financially ruinous donations from members and families.

The first investigation aimed to collect information on the group's property, decision-making process and money flows.

If the probe confirms that the church has violated laws and damaged public welfare, the government can request a court to order its "dissolution," meaning depriving it of its status as a religious corporation. However, it will still be able to operate.

The "right to question" was incorporated into the Religious Corporations Law when it was revised in 1995 in the wake of a series of crimes committed by the AUM Shinrikyo cult, which included carrying out a deadly sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system that year.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida had previously been cautious about conducting a probe into the church due to concerns it could violate the right to freedom of religion.

But he decided an investigation should be launched, with approval ratings for his Cabinet having plunged due largely to connections between lawmakers of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the organization, which was established by a staunch anti-communist in South Korea in 1954.

According to the agency, its panel, which reviewed the draft questions and approved them on Wednesday, said the latest inquiry will not violate the right to freedom of religion as it does not constitute an interference with the body's religious acts.

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