TOKYO (AP) — Japanese prosecutors are expected to formally indict the suspect in the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday, his lawyer said.
Tetsuya Yamagami was arrested immediately after allegedly shooting Abe with a homemade firearm as the former leader gave a campaign speech in July outside a train station in Nara, western Japan. Later that month, Yamagami was sent to an Osaka detention center and subjected to a five-month mental evaluation, which ended on Tuesday.
Yamagami is now back in custody in Nara after being found fit to stand trial.
One of his lawyers, Masaaki Furukawa, told The Associated Press on Thursday that he expects prosecutors to charge Yamagami with murder and violating gun control laws.
Given the complexity of the case, it will be months before his trial begins, he said.
Furukawa said he and two other lawyers take turns visiting Yamagami at the detention center every 10 to 12 days, between his examination by psychiatric experts. His visitors were limited to his lawyers and his sister, he said.
Furukawa said Yamagami was healthy at the detention center. He said he could not release details of their conversations until he sees what evidence prosecutors are submitting to the court in their indictment.
According to police, Yamagami told them he killed Abe, one of Japan’s most influential and controversial politicians, because of Abe’s apparent ties to a religious group he hated. In his statements and in social media posts attributed to him, Yamagami said he developed a grudge because his mother made massive donations to the Unification Church, which put his family bankrupt and ruined his life.
“It’s an extremely serious case, but someone has to stand up for it,” Furukawa said. “Naturally, he will have to bear criminal responsibility for the serious consequences he caused by allegedly shooting his gun to take the life of a politician, and we are instructed to do our best to reduce his sentence.”
Yamagami’s father, an executive of a company founded by the suspect’s grandfather, committed suicide when Yamagami was 4 years old. After her mother joined the church, she began making large donations which ruined the family and shattered Yamagami’s hope of going to college. His brother later committed suicide. After a three-year stint in the Navy, Yamagami was until recently a factory worker.
Some Japanese have expressed sympathy for Yamagami, especially those who also suffered as the children of followers of the South Korea-based Unification Church, which is known to pressure adherents to they make large donations and is considered a cult in Japan.
Thousands of people signed a petition asking for clemency for Yamagami, and others sent care packages to his relatives or to the detention center.
The investigation into the case has led to revelations of years of close ties between Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the church since Abe’s grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, helped root the church in Japan in the 1960s on common interests in conservative and anti-communist causes.
Current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s popularity has dipped in his handling of the church controversy and for insisting on holding a rare and controversial state funeral for Abe.
In a September 2021 video message, Abe praised the Unification Church’s work for peace on the Korean Peninsula and its emphasis on traditional family values.