The Japanese branch of the South Korean Unification Church acknowledged on Monday that the mother of the man arrested for the shooting of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was indeed a member, but said that neither the suspect himself nor Abe had been.
Abe was shot on Friday during a campaign speech in western Japan by who the police identified as a 41-year-old unemployed man who had previously been part of the country's navy.
The alleged shooter told police that he had targeted Abe because he believed the former prime minister had promoted a religious group to which his mother had made a large donation, driving her into bankruptcy.
"Trying to understand how such hatred may have possibly led to the killing is totally perplexing," the head of the church, Tomihiro Tanaka, told reporters in Tokyo.
While denying that Abe was a member, however, he said that the former prime minister had supported the church in promoting peace.
What is the Unification Church?
Japanese media had pointed to the church, known fully as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification
The church was founded in 1954.
Its founder, the self-declared messiah and ardent anti-communist from South Korea, Sun Myung Moon also ran a business empire.
Critics have long called the church a cult and questioned where its financing comes from.
Abe, the longest-serving prime minister in Japan's history, was known for his conservatism and has been accused of revising the history of Japanese war crimes during the Second World War.
He also attended an event held by an organization with connections to the church last September where he gave a speech praising that organization's work in promoting peace in South Korea.
Church head Tanaka confirmed that some people make generous donations, but on a voluntary basis.
"The amount of donations is up to each individual,'' he said. "We are grateful to those who give large donations, but nothing is required."
He acknowledged several scandals related to donations in the past but said there had not been any problems since measures were set up in 2009.
A spokesperson for the church said that it has around 300,000 followers in Japan and up to 200,000 in South Korea.
Its appeal in Japan has attracted celebrities as well as the attention of politicians who seek to court its influence.
ab/fb (Reuters, AP)