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Japan's prime minister orders government investigation into the Unification Church

With support for his Liberal Democratic Party plummeting, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Monday ordered an investigation into the Unification Church, which has ties to several members of the ruling party.

In July, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was assassinated while delivering an outdoor campaign speech. The suspect, Tetsuya Yamagami, posted online that his mother made large donations to the Unification Church, which led to his family going bankrupt, and he blamed Abe for promoting the organization.

In the wake of Abe's death, police learned that several lawmakers with the Liberal Democratic Party did not publicly reveal their close connections with the Unification Church. The party and the church have "shared interests in conservative causes," The Associated Press reports, and last month, Kishida said those ties would be severed. Still, many called on the government to launch a probe into how the Unification Church may have influenced those lawmakers.

Kishida spoke to Parliament on Monday, and said he was "taking seriously" accusations made against the Unification Church, including that it fleeced followers and drove them into poverty. Kishida also stated that he does not have any ties to the church.

The Unification Church — which recently changed its name to the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification — was founded in South Korea in 1954, and its followers have been referred to as "Moonies." Its detractors have described the church, known for holding mass arranged wedding ceremonies, as a cult. The church has admitted that Yamagami's mother donated $700,000, including life insurance and real estate to the organization, and said it gave half of the money back at the request of Yamagami's uncle.