Photo/Illutration Toshimitsu Motegi, secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, explains the results of a study into ties between lawmakers and the Unification Church at a Sept. 8 news conference. (Koichi Ueda)

Close to half of lawmakers belonging to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party were found to have had dealings with the Unification Church or its affiliated organizations, an unsettling finding in light of the July 8 slaying of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

LDP Secretary-General Toshimitsu Motegi on Sept. 8 released the results of reports submitted by lawmakers regarding their links to the organization now formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.

Of the 379 LDP lawmakers, 179 were found to have some connection to the Unification Church. The names of 121 lawmakers were released because they were found to have had a certain level of closeness to the church, such as having received support during elections.

“I want to frankly reflect on the gravity of the situation,” Motegi said at the news conference where he read out the results of the study.

Not included among the 379 lawmakers were Abe and Lower House Speaker Hiroyuki Hosoda, although both men have been reported to have taken part in events sponsored by organizations affiliated with the Unification Church.

Motegi was at pains to emphasize there was no way to confirm the extent of Abe’s ties to the church following his death at the hands of a gunman while giving an election campaign speech in the city of Nara.

Abe’s suspected assailant, Tetsuya Yamagami, told police he bore a grudge against the Unification Church because his mother made large donations to the group that created difficulties for the family while he was growing up. He said he targeted Abe because the veteran lawmaker was known to have ties with the church.

Both Hosoda and Hidehisa Otsuji, president of the Upper House, were excluded from the study because they do not belong to the LDP caucus of their respective chambers after assuming leadership posts in the Diet.

Motegi said that about 90 percent of LDP lawmakers who had dealings with the Unification Church or related organizations never realized the connection to the church.

“That probably shows our lack of understanding,” Motegi said.

He added that the party would call on all its lawmakers to sever their ties with church-affiliated organizations and said similar instructions would also be issued to local assembly members belonging to the LDP.

Motegi indicated that those who did not heed the instructions would likely be asked to leave the party.

Among the lawmakers whose names were divulged was Koichi Hagiuda, the party policy chief. He was found to have ties through four distinct channels, including attending gatherings organized by the Unification Church and accepting volunteer help during elections.

Daishiro Yamagiwa, the state minister in charge of economic revitalization, and Ryota Takeda, a former internal affairs minister, were linked to the church through two avenues.

Among issues included in the study were sending congratulatory messages to events, speaking at events organized by affiliated groups and receiving donations.

Yoshiyuki Inoue, who was re-elected in the July Upper House election, was also named for receiving support and volunteer help during his campaign from the church and affiliated organizations.

The other lawmaker who accepted volunteers was Lower House member Hiroaki Saito.

The LDP decided not to disclose the names of lawmakers who admitted to sending congratulatory messages to events or were interviewed for publications released by affiliated organizations.

Names were also not disclosed if aides to lawmakers attended events on behalf of the lawmaker or if the lawmakers attended but did not give a speech.