TOKYO (AP) — The assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has unearthed long-suspected, little-talked-of links between him and a religious group that started in South Korea but has spread its influence around the world.
Police and Japanese media have suggested that the alleged attacker, Tetsuya Yamagami, who was arrested on the spot, was furious about Abe’s reported ties to the Unification Church, which has pursued relationships with politically conservative groups and leaders in the United States, Japan and Europe. The suspect reportedly was upset because his mother’s massive donations to the church bankrupted the family.
Many Japanese have been surprised as revelations emerged this week of the ties between the church and Japan’s top leaders, which have their roots in shared anti-communism efforts during the Cold War. Analysts say it could lead people to examine more closely how powerfully the ruling party’s conservative worldviews have steered the policies of modern Japan.
A look at the church and its deep ties to Japan’s governing party and Abe’s own family:
WHAT’S THE UNIFICATION CHURCH?
The church was founded in Seoul in 1954, a year after the end of the Korean War, by the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the self-proclaimed messiah who preached new interpretations of the Bible and conservative, family-oriented value systems.
The church championed anti-communism and the unification of the Korean Peninsula, which has been split between the totalitarian North and democratic South.
The church is perhaps best known for mass weddings where it paired off couples, often from different countries, and renewed the vows of those already married, at big, open places such as stadiums and gymnasiums. The group is said to have a global membership of millions, including hundreds of thousands in Japan.
The church faced accusations in the 1970s and ’80s of using devious recruitment tactics and brainwashing adherents into turning over huge portions of their salaries to Moon. The church has denied such allegations, saying many new religious movements faced similar accusations in their early years.
In Japan, the group has faced lawsuits for offering “spiritual merchandise” that allegedly caused members to buy expensive art and jewelry or sell their real estate to raise donations for the church.
WHAT’S THE CHURCH’S LINK TO WORLD LEADERS?
Throughout his life, Moon worked to transform his church into a worldwide religious movement and expand its business and charitable activities. Moon was convicted of tax evasion in 1982 and served a prison term in New York. He died in 2012.
The church has developed relations with conservative world leaders including U.S. presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and more recently Donald Trump.
Moon also had ties with North Korea’s founder Kim Il Sung, the late…