Japan's top court: Note on donations to former Unification Church is invalid

Japan's Supreme Court has found invalid a note on donations written by a former follower of the religious group previously known as the Unification Church. The note said the aged ex-follower would not ask the group to give back her donations.

The top court on Thursday handed down the ruling on a lawsuit filed by the woman and her daughter in 2017.

The plaintiffs sought compensation from the group and one of its members for the huge donations the mother made. The daughter argues that her mother was led to donate a large amount of money through illicit solicitation.

The note was written by the mother in 2015, when she was 86 years old. The group filmed a video of the mother confirming her pledge that she would not seek the return of the money.

The Tokyo district and high courts had turned down the plaintiffs' claims based on the note and the video.

The mother has since died, and her daughter filed an appeal to the Supreme Court.

In Thursday's ruling, presiding justice Sakai Toru of the top court's first petty bench said the mother was diagnosed as having dementia half a year after she signed the note. He said her condition made it difficult for her to make a reasonable decision.

The justice said group members led the creation of the note, taking advantage of the woman's condition and unilaterally inflicting damage on her.

The court ruled the note was invalid.

Sakai also said the donations totaling more than 100 million yen, or about 620,000 dollars, were "unusual," and had an undeniable impact on the mother's life.

The Supreme Court justice ordered the Tokyo High Court to re-examine the case with regard to whether the solicitation of the donations was unlawful and whether the group should bear responsibility.

He said the issue of whether the methods of soliciting donations were illegal should be re-examined from various points of view, including the donor's character, family environment, and her relationship with the group.

This was the first top court ruling on a series of lawsuit involving donations to the group. Experts say it could affect similar lawsuits filed against the group.

In response to Thursday's ruling, the group said it was regrettable that the case was sent back to the high court, because the rulings in the first and second trials were based on facts and evidence.

The group said it will continue to argue what it believes is right.