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Japanese gov't plans to seek court order to dissolve Unification Church

The Japanese government plans to seek a court order to disband the Unification Church, a government source said Saturday, a move that comes after a months-long probe into the religious group over allegations of soliciting financially ruinous donations from members and other questionable practices.

Scrutiny of the group intensified after former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was fatally shot during an election campaign speech last year over his perceived links to the entity, an incident which also brought to light its connections with many ruling party lawmakers.

According to the source, the Cultural Affairs Agency is currently considering convening a meeting of an advisory body on religious institutions -- possibly on Oct. 12 -- to report its plan, and then asking the Tokyo District Court to issue an order to dissolve the group, the source said.

The agency has judged through documents submitted from the Unification Church and statements of victims who were pressured into making massive donations that the group's practices amounted to violations of the Religious Corporations Act, according to the source.

The law allows Japanese courts to order the dissolution of a religious group that has committed an act which is "clearly found to harm public welfare substantially."

If dissolved, the Unification Church, founded in South Korea in 1954 and formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, would lose its status as a religious corporation in Japan and be deprived of tax benefits, although it could still operate as an entity.

So far, only two religious organizations have received a dissolution order from a Japanese court because of legal violations. One was the AUM Shinrikyo cult, which carried out the deadly 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system.

Many in Japan have reported financial problems involving the Unification Church, which has also been notorious for "spiritual sales," in which it pressures people to buy vases and other items for exorbitant prices through the use of threats, such as invoking negative "ancestral karma."

The group has also been found responsible in some civil lawsuits filed over huge donations.

In the case of Abe's assassination, police have said that Tetsuya Yamagami, who has been indicted over the incident, claimed he targeted Abe partly because Abe's grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, helped bring the church to Japan in the 1960s.

Yamagami's mother is believed to have made donations totaling 100 million yen ($670,000) to the church, which Yamagami has said financially ruined the family.