Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida delivers a policy speech at the Extraordinary Diet session in Tokyo on Oct 3, 2022. (KAZUHIRO NOGI / AFP)
TOKYO – Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Monday instructed his culture minister to launch an investigation into the contentious Unification Church amid opposition pressure and slumping support for his Cabinet.
The investigation has been launched based on "the right to ask questions" under the Religious Corporations Act, with the probe marking the first time the government here has exercised the right.
The result of the probe could see the organization lose its status as a religious corporation and its tax benefits.
READ MORE: Japan lower house speaker under fire for links with Unification Church
At a parliamentary session on Monday Kishida said he ordered the probe following more than 1,700 consultation requests received since early September through a telephone hotline service.
The government has taken seriously the fact that there are a large number of victims as well as poverty and broken families, and they haven't been provided with adequate relief
Fumio Kishida, Japanese Prime Minister
An advisory panel, meanwhile, has also urged the government to use the Religious Corporations Act to disband the group or launch an investigation before disbanding it.
The Unification Church, formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, has been under the spotlight for encouraging its followers to make exorbitant donations in the form of "spiritual sales" in return for "karmic benefits."
Following such donations, some followers have been left in financial ruin.
"The government has taken seriously the fact that there are a large number of victims as well as poverty and broken families, and they haven't been provided with adequate relief," Kishida said.
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Pressure has been mounting on the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) headed by Kishida, amid slumping public support, to explain its connections to the organization after having previously promised to sever ties.
This general view shows the Tokyo headquarters of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, known as the Unification Church, in the Shibuya Ward of Tokyo on Sept 27, 2022. (KAZUHIRO NOGI / AFP)
An internal probe by the LDP last month revealed about half of the LDP's lawmakers had ties with the controversial organization, often referred to as a cult.
Concern has been rife among opposition parties and the public that the controversial group may have been trying to influence politics here through links with LDP lawmakers.
Keiko Nagaoka, Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, said her ministry will begin the investigation at the earliest date.
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In part, owing to the LDP's links to the dubious group, the approval rating for Kishida's Cabinet has dropped to 35 percent, marking the lowest level since its launch in October last year, according to a local media poll.