Japan's Culture Minister Masahito Moriyama speaks during a press conference in Tokyo. Image Credit: AP

Japan's government will ask a court to order the disbandment of the fringe religious group whose activities were cited as motivating the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The request to the Tokyo District Court could come as soon as tomorrow, culture minister Masahito Moriyama said Thursday, after members of a government advisory panel unanimously agreed the move was appropriate.

Police said Tetsuya Yamagami, the person charged in Abe's July 2022 murder, told them he shot the former premier because of his connections to the South Korean-based group formerly known as the Unification Church. The suspect blamed the group for bankrupting his family by taking excessive donations from his mother.

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The group has "damaged the lives of many people" by having them make donations or buy goods while limiting their ability to make decisions freely, Moriyama told reporters. Such activities have been going on since at least 1980, he added.

If the disbandment order goes ahead, it would be the third of its kind since World War II and end the church's religious status "- removing its tax benefits. The group has a list of court judgments against it over its fund-raising methods, which have included charging followers millions of dollars for books of scripture. It also has longstanding links to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, helping it turn out voters for elections.

Abe killing puts pressure on lawmakers' Unification Church ties

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is seeking to distance himself from the group to repair his cabinet's image and restore public support, less than a year ahead of an LDP leadership election. The step also comes a day ahead of pretrial court procedures for Yamagami, scheduled for Friday.

Under Japan's Religious Corporations Act, the courts can dissolve a religious group "if it commits an act which is clearly found to harm public welfare substantially."

In a statement on its website, the group said the government's decision was regrettable and it had been reached on the basis of "biased information." The group will fight the request in court, it added.

Religious group confirms mom of alleged Abe killer was a member

The government is also mulling a law that would enable seizure of assets belonging to the group now known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification. The aim is to make sure funds are available for victim compensation, TV network ANN reported Wednesday, citing a source close to the matter.

The Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult faced a dissolution measure following its poison gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995. A few years later, the Myokakuji Temple group was ordered to disband after findings that it had defrauded followers.