More victims join refund negotiations with ex-Unification Church

Japanese lawyers representing former followers of the religious group widely known as the Unification Church say more people have joined negotiations to demand that the group return their donations.

The lawyers told a news conference on Monday that 15 people, either former followers or their relatives, have newly joined negotiations and are requesting a refund of roughly 2.5 million dollars.

The lawyers say in most cases, the group took advantage of the worries of victims and their suffering over the marriage, illness or suicide of their family members to persuade them to join the group.

The lawyers began negotiations with the group in February on behalf of people who say they were forced to make large donations or to buy expensive items.

With the latest addition, 124 people are now demanding the return of more than 27 million dollars. Some of them have moved to filing a petition for mediation with the court after negotiations made no progress.

The head of the lawyers' team, Murakoshi Susumu, said the team continues to receive inquiries from victims.

He also said he has no idea how long it will take for the negotiations to succeed, but the lawyers will continue to fight for as long as the victims need their help.

The former Unification Church says it will respond to the requests individually, not collectively, in an appropriate way.

The government is looking to seek a court order to disband the group as a religious corporation, a status that makes it eligible for tax breaks.

Murakoshi said the group has been systematically and continuously engaged in illegal acts that run counter to public welfare, so the team believes that the group meets the conditions for issuing such an order. He urged the government and the court to act quickly.