Japan culture ministry to seek court order to fine ex-Unification Church

Japan's education and culture ministry has decided to seek a court order to fine the religious group widely known as the Unification Church for failing to reply to some of the ministry's inquiries.

It will be the first time the government has sought to ask for a fine in connection with its legal authority to question a religious corporation.

Ministry officials are looking into the organization's alleged dubious marketing practices and solicitations of large donations from its followers.

A meeting of the ministry's expert panel on religious corporations was held on Wednesday.

Education and culture minister Nagaoka Keiko told the panel that the ministry has exercised its legal authority to inquire into the organization on seven occasions. She said the group has failed to respond to more than 100 items, or about 20 percent of the total.

The Religious Corporations Act says that if a corporation refuses to reply to inquiries by authorities or makes false statements, its representative official will be fined up to 100,000 yen, or more than 670 dollars.

The minister asked the panel for its opinions on the ministry's plan to request a court order to fine the group over its failure to reply. The ministry said the panel members determined that such a request is appropriate.

The ministry plans to send a notice to the Tokyo District Court on Thursday seeking the fine.

The court will consider whether it is appropriate to fine the organization. Hearings will be held behind closed doors. The group can appeal a court decision to impose a fine.

The government is also looking at the possibility of requesting a court order to disband the group as a religious corporation.

The group said on its website on Tuesday that there are no grounds for it to be ordered to disband, and that it cannot accept fines.

The organization came under scrutiny in the wake of the fatal shooting of former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo in July last year.

The man indicted for the shooting, Yamagami Tetsuya, reportedly told investigators that he believed Abe had close ties with the religious group. He says his mother donated large sums of money to the group, which left his family in financial ruin.