The Unification Church in Japan, colloquially known as the "Moonies," has offered to compensate victims of its high-pressure donation tactics with a commitment of up to $67 million.
Victim compensation: During a press conference on Nov. 7 at the group’s Tokyo headquarters, leader Tomihiro Tanaka pledged to create a compensation fund ranging from 6 billion yen ($39.7 million) to 10 billion yen ($66.2 million). The group, however, did not provide the specifics of the compensation distribution. Whether it would be administered by the Japanese government remains unclear as the government has declined to comment on the plan.
Controversy and legal challenges: The Japanese Education Ministry earlier requested to revoke the church's legal status after its investigation revealed it engaged in a pattern of sowing fear and damaging family ties among members to coerce contributions.
The potential dissolution of the Unification Church could mark only the third such case in the country's history, following the Aum Shinrikyo cult's dissolution after the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin gas attack.
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Not exactly an olive branch: The compensation pledge comes as the Tokyo District Court considers stripping the group's tax-exempt status and liquidating its assets in Japan. Concerns that the church might attempt to relocate or transfer its assets overseas have been raised in response to the impending threat of its dissolution in Japan.
This suspicion comes from the idea that if the court decides to liquidate its assets, the church's financial resources could be at risk of being used to compensate victims or seized by authorities. The compensation is a way of demonstrating its commitment to addressing the allegations of misconduct and ensuring that victims are compensated using its existing assets within the country.
A leader’s message: In his statement, Tanaka expressed regret for the suffering experienced by former followers and their families but denied any wrongdoing on the part of the group.
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The Unification Church has maintained that the government's request for dissolution infringes on religious freedom and the rule of law, setting the stage for a protracted legal battle. Refusing to accept legal responsibility for the donations issue, Tanaka claimed that the church bears only supervisory responsibility over its "inadequate guidance" to followers who sought excessive donations.
Reactions from followers: The stance has drawn criticism from former followers, lawyers and advocacy groups, who accuse Tanaka of shirking responsibility and attempting to avoid accountability, reported Asahi. The former members demand compensation, arguing that the group has not adequately acknowledged the damage caused by its fundraising tactics.
Legal Implications: Should the Unification Church's legal status get revoked, it will lose its tax-exempt privilege as a religious organization and face financial setbacks, reported CBS.
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In response to concerns about the group transferring its assets overseas, lawmakers are exploring measures to ensure the church's assets remain in Japan for compensation purposes. Experts posit that the legal battle could extend over several months or years if the church decides to appeal the revocation verdict.
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