TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Wednesday (Aug 31) that politicians had a duty to be cautious about their ties with any organisation, and apologised for his own party members' reported activities with the controversial Unification Church.
"As head of the party, I offer my sincere apologies," Kishida told a news conference, his first in person as he emerged from COVID-19 quarantine on Wednesday having contracted the virus earlier this month.
"Politicians must be cautious about having relationships with organisations that society recognises as problematic," he added, promising an investigation into ties between members of his party and the church.
He also asked members of his ruling party to cut ties with the Unification Church, which has faced renewed scrutiny following ex-premier Shinzo Abe's assassination.
"We will make it the party's policy that our lawmakers sincerely reflect on their past, abandon cosy relationships and cut off ties with the organisation in question."
Revelations of long-running links between some lawmakers of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the church have become a headache for Kishida, denting his approval ratings, and have fanned opposition against a state funeral planned for slain former premier Shinzo Abe.
Politicians including Abe's brother and former defence minister Nobuo Kishi have acknowledged receiving help from church members during elections.
The church says political support is decided by individual members without official involvement, but experts say it has long cultivated ties with powerful figures internationally.
There has also been a fresh examination of allegations that the church engages in "spiritual sales", pressuring members to buy high-priced items to raise funds.
The church denies engaging in the practice, but Kishida said the government would "make an all-out effort" to assist victims of such sales.
Abe's suspected assassin bore a grudge against the church, officially called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, alleging it bankrupted his mother, and blamed Abe for promoting it, according to his social media posts and news reports.
Abe was not a member of the church but had addressed an affiliated group, as have various prominent international businesspeople and politicians, including Donald Trump.
The church, founded in South Korea in the 1950s and known for its mass weddings, has over the years faced questions over how it solicits donations.
The government has said Abe's funeral, to be held on Sep 27 at Tokyo's Nippon Budokan hall, would cost about 250 million yen (US$1.8 million), excluding outlays for security and the reception of overseas dignitaries.
Kishida said 6,000 people were expected to attend the funeral but that its final cost would not be clear until a guest list of foreign dignitaries was finalised.