LDP’s concerns rise over involvement with former Unification Church

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Ryu Shionoya, acting chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party’s Abe faction, center, speaks at a general meeting at the LDP headquarters in Tokyo on Thursday.

The Liberal Democratic Party is concerned with successive revelations about the relationship between LDP lawmakers and the religious group widely known as the Unification Church, which is in the spotlight following the shooting of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The LDP is worried that public criticism of its relationship with the religious group, which is now officially called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, could deliver a blow to the government and the LDP.

“I want to make it clear that from now on I will sever all ties [with the Unification Church], including those who are affiliated with the church,” former Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Hakubun Shimomura told reporters at the LDP headquarters in Tokyo, following the general meeting of the Abe faction on Thursday.

A political party branch that he represented in 2016 received a donation of ¥60,000 from an organization affiliated with the Unification Church.

The Cultural Affairs Agency gave approval in 2015 for the Unification Church to change its name. However, opposition parties and others have argued that the name change made it harder to view the religious group’s business practices, such as selling goods or services claiming supernatural benefits to the purchaser.

Shimomura, who served as education minister from 2012-2015, ruled out any involvement in giving the green light to the name change. “In my position as minister, I did not give any political instructions,” he said, adding, “Now I feel responsible for it.”

Many other lawmakers belonging to the Abe faction also had ties to the Unification Church, including Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi and Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Koichi Hagiuda.

The faction’s acting chairman, Ryu Shionoya, met with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the Prime Minister’s Office after the general meeting and said he was leaving it up to individual lawmakers to explain their relationship with the group.

The relationship between lawmakers and the Unification Church and related organizations ranged from receiving physical support for election campaigns to accepting donations.

“Former Prime Ministers Nobusuke Kishi and Takeo Fukuda supported the International Federation for Victory over Communism, which was established in 1968 by the Unification Church under the anti-communist slogan,” a source close to the LDP said. “It is a natural development that many members of the Abe faction, which follows in the footsteps of the former prime ministers, are involved [with the Unification Church.]”

Opposition parties also involved

The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan is stepping up its pursuit of the LDP regarding its involvement with the Unification Church.

At a press conference Thursday, CDPJ Policy Research Council Chairman Junya Ogawa criticized the LDP, saying, “While the LDP doesn’t investigate, doubts within the general public and society will continue to grow.”

According to a CDPJ internal party survey, eight Diet members, including former Education Minister Masaharu Nakagawa, sent congratulatory telegrams to a meeting of an organization affiliated with the church.

Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party) also announced that 13 of its members, including its co-leader Nobuyuki Baba and secretary general Fumitake Fujita, had attended an event hosted by organizations affiliated with the church. Both parties stated that no members received donations or election campaign support, according to self-reported information from their members.

CDPJ leader Kenta Izumi stressed that it is clear that the Unification Church is not a group that supports the party.