Japan culture ministry asks court to fine former Unification Church

Japan's education and culture ministry has asked a court to fine a religious group widely known as the Unification Church. The ministry says the group failed to properly respond to many of its inquiries.

The ministry sent a notice seeking the civil fine to the Tokyo District Court on Thursday.

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

The ministry has exercised its legal authority to question the religious organization seven times. The questions covered more than 500 points, including the group's management, donations and practices.

But the ministry says the group has refused to answer questions on more than 100 of the points.

The Religious Corporations Act says if a religious organization fails to answer questions by authorities or gives a false answer, its representative officer will be punished by a civil fine of up to 100,000 yen, or nearly 680 dollars.

At a meeting of an expert panel on Wednesday, the ministry explained its plan to seek the fine, saying the degree of the group's violations is "not minor." Ministry officials say the panel supported the plan.

The court will now decide whether it is appropriate to fine the group. Hearings will be held behind closed doors. The group can file an appeal if it is ordered to pay a fine.

The group has made clear it will contest a fine, saying it has sincerely responded each time the ministry made inquiries.

The ministry is considering the possibility of requesting a court order to disband the group based on its replies so far and on the interviews with former followers.

The order would remove the group's legal status as a religious corporation, and it would lose its tax benefits.