Japan lower house OKs bill to stop Unification Church moving assets

Japan’s House of Representatives passed a bill on Tuesday to prevent the outflow of the Unification Church’s assets as concerns grew that the controversial religious group would try to hide its funds overseas as it faces compensation demands.

The bill is designed to ensure there will be sufficient financial support for those who have fallen victim to the groups’ activities, including aggressive donations solicitations.

It will be sent next to the House of Councillors, or upper house, paving the way for its passage by the end of the current parliament session through Dec. 13.

Under the legislation, when a request filed with a court to strip a group of its religious corporation status and tax benefits is under review, the group concerned must notify central or prefectural government authorities of any plan to dispose of assets in advance.

After the Unification Church met with harsh criticism for its donation solicitations and other malicious practices, the government filed a request in October with the Tokyo District Court for an order to disband the Japanese branch of the South Korea-headquartered church, formally called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.

If the court issues such an order, a liquidator will dispose of the religious corporation’s assets, enabling victims who are recognized as creditors to receive compensation.

The Japanese arm has said it plans to allocate up to 10 billion yen ($68 million) to the government to cover likely compensation for former believers and their families over forced donations.

A group of lawyers supporting victims in Japan said about 130 people have been in financial distress because of the religious group’s forced donations, with damages payments estimated to top 4 billion yen.

However, the lawyers believe there are far more unconfirmed cases, meaning the total could end up being around 100 billion yen.

The practices of the Unification Church gained public attention after the shooting of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2022, allegedly by a man holding a grudge against the church because of massive donations made by his family.

Tetsuya Yamagami, who has been indicted over the shooting, told investigators he targeted Abe because Abe’s grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, helped to establish the church in Japan.