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Accused Abe assassin attempted suicide 17 yrs ago to trigger insurance payout to siblings

Tetsuya Yamagami, the man accused of fatally shooting former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, leaves a police station to be sent to the prosecutor's office, in the city of Nara on July 10, 2022. (Mainichi/Daiki Takikawa)

OSAKA -- The man accused of killing former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during an election stump speech attempted suicide 17 years ago so that his siblings could get a life insurance payout, as the family had been struggling financially due to his mother's huge donation to a religious group, the man's uncle told reporters on July 15.

    Tetsuya Yamagami, a 41-year-old former member of the Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF), has been sent to prosecutors on suspicion of murder over the July 8 assassination of the former prime minister, aged 67, as he was giving a speech to support a House of Councillors election candidate in the city of Nara.

    The suspect's 77-year-old uncle spoke to reporters on July 15, a week after the assassination. Yamagami's 69-year-old mother donated a total of around 100 million yen (about $722,000) to the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, commonly known by its former name the Unification Church, and went bankrupt in 2002. It was revealed that from around this time, Yamagami was driven into a corner and under extreme pressure, and increasingly resented the group. The uncle said that Yamagami was dogged by the thought that his "life was a mess" because of the Unification Church.

    According to the uncle, Yamagami's mother joined the religious group in 1991 when Yamagami was an elementary school student. When the suspect was around 4 years old, Yamagami's father took his own life, and Yamagami's brother, who was a year older, was blinded in the right eye due to a childhood cancer. Their distressed mother turned to religion. The Unification Church claims that the mother became a follower around 1998.

    The uncle explained that the mother donated 20 million yen when she joined the group, and 30 million yen soon after. She also donated 10 million yen some three years later. The total 60 million yen (about $433,000) came from life insurance payments made after the death of Yamagami's father. His mother sold real estate inherited from her father in 1999, and eventually went bankrupt after making donations totaling around 100 million yen.

    During this time, the uncle continued to support the family financially, but the mother would not stop donating to the Unification Church. Yamagami's brother even begged their uncle to help them as they had "nothing to eat." The mother had apparently pleaded for money many times, and the uncle said that there was a time he "splashed tea on her and turned her away."

    Yamagami entered one of the best high schools in Nara Prefecture, but gave up on going to college for lack of money. He joined the MSDF the year his mother went bankrupt, and in January 2005, he tried to take his own life at age 24. He had confided in those around him that he wanted to save his brother and sister, who were stuck in poverty.

    At the time, his mother was living in South Korea for Unification Church activities and apparently did not return to Japan. Yamagami left the MSDF seven months later. Yamagami's uncle had dropped out of contact with him from around this time. In around 2015, the suspect's brother took his own life.

    The uncle also revealed that Yamagami's mother has been staying at his home since shortly after Abe's killing. He commented, "She's exhausted, and I haven't talked about the incident with her. She seemed to have kept making donations even after the bankruptcy, but I think she'd already have left the group if she felt something."

    (Japanese original by Hirokage Tabata, Osaka Science & Environment News Department and Yuta Kumamoto, Osaka City News Department)

    People pray near the site of the fatal attack on former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe one week after the incident, in the city of Nara on July 15, 2022. (Mainichi/Daiki Takikawa)

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