Unification Church agrees to pay 230 million yen to former follower
THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
The Unification Church, apparently fearing the wrath of the education ministry, agreed to pay 230 million yen ($2.2 million) to a woman who said she was intimidated into donating huge sums to the group.
The woman, 70, from Chiba Prefecture, had demanded about 260 million yen, claiming the group pushed her to make contributions by saying "the reason her husband died of an illness was because of his fate caused by ancestors' actions."
The sum is a record for an out-of-court settlement involving the Unification Church and an individual, according to the National Network of Lawyers Against the Spiritual Sales.
The Unification Church is a religious group founded in South Korea by Reverend Sun Myung Moon and is known for its mass wedding ceremonies.
In out-of-court settlement talks, representatives of the Unification Church initially offered 130 million yen to the woman.
But they added about 100 million yen to the sum after the woman threatened to pursue the responsibility of the education ministry, which oversees religious corporations, including the Unification Church.
Hiroshi Yamaguchi, a lawyer with the network against spiritual sales, speculated that the Unification Church upped the settlement out of fear of the ministry.
"The Unification Church must be hoping to avoid a possible suspension and other punitive measures," he said.
The woman first sent a notice to the group demanding compensation in August 2006, according to Masaki Kito, a lawyer representing the woman.
Not satisfied with the group's initial offer, the woman's side sent out another letter, saying the education ministry was also responsible for failing to force the Unification Church to make a sincere response to her claim.
An accompanying draft complaint showed that the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology was also listed as a defendant in the woman's planned compensation lawsuit.
Representatives of the group then offered to pay about 220 million yen to settle the matter. Last month, they raised the amount to more than 230 million yen and started making payments.
The religious corporation law states that the education ministry can order a religious corporation to suspend operations or it can file a request with a court to seek the disbandment of the group.
Kito said the ministry should still take remedial measures in line with that law, noting that the Supreme Court acknowledged in 1997 the illegality of the Unification Church's spiritual sales.
An official of the Unification Church declined to comment on the matter. "We refrain from commenting because it involves the privacy of our followers," the official said.
In July last year, the Tokyo High Court ordered the Unification Church to pay 276.2 million yen to a 69-year-old woman who said she was threatened and forced to make contributions.
It was the largest amount ordered by a court against the Unification Church. (IHT/Asahi: April 8,2008)