Photo/Illutration Tomihiro Tanaka, chairman of the Japanese arm of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, speaks at a news conference on July 11 in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward. (Sayuri Ide)

The Unification Church said the mother of Shinzo Abe’s suspected assassin is a member of the religious group but did not detail her donations that may be connected to the motive behind the shooting.

The group, formally named the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, and known as Toitsu Kyokai in Japanese, told a news conference in Tokyo on July 11 that the suspect, Tetsuya Yamagami, and the former prime minister were never members of the organization.

According to investigative sources, Yamagami, 41, told investigators after the July 8 fatal shooting of Abe that his mother had joined a religious group, donated lots of money, and drove the family into financial ruin.

Yamagami said he wanted to target the organization’s leader but decided to attack Abe because he thought the politician had close connections to the religious group, according to the sources.

Tomihiro Tanaka, chairman of the Japanese arm of the Unification Church, told the news conference that he was informed that Yamagami’s mother became a member around 1998 and was declared bankrupt around 2002.

“But I am not aware of what family circumstances drove (his mother) into bankruptcy,” Tanaka said. “That is very much what police are investigating, and we hope to cooperate with figuring out his motive.”

Tanaka also said he did not know how much the mother donated to the church.

“We were unable to track the records dating as far back as a couple of dozen years ago,” he said. “I hope to learn about it through the police investigation.”

Tanaka said if Yamagami’s reported grudge against the church was behind the attack on Abe, then the group would have to take such revelations very seriously.

But he added, “There is a fairly long distance between holding a grudge toward the church and committing the murder of former Prime Minister Abe, and we are at a loss to understand it.”

A relative of Yamagami told The Asahi Shimbun that the mother made large donations to a religious group after her husband died. The relative said he believes Yamagami blamed the group for the financial hardships he endured.

Investigative sources quoted Yamagami as saying that his mother continued to give donations to the group even after she was declared bankrupt.

When asked about this at the news conference, Tanaka said, “We have no records of soliciting a large amount of donations from her after (she) underwent bankruptcy.”

Tanaka said Yamagami himself “has never been a member” of the group.

He also said Abe “sent a video message to an event hosted by our friendship organization.”

However, Abe “has never been registered as a member of our group, nor has he served as an adviser to our group,” he said.

The Unification Church was founded in South Korea. Followers are known as “Moonies” after the group’s founder, Sun Myung Moon.

The Unification Church became known for its mass wedding ceremonies. It also attracted attention over its “spiritual sales method.”

Members would intimidate or scare fellow followers and others into buying expensive items from the organization, such as pots and seals, as well as donating large sums of money.

“It is true that we had troubles regarding donations in the past,” Tanaka said. “But since 2009, when the then chairperson issued a statement, our attitude toward donations has changed.”