The Words of the Ota Family

Ransom On Japanese Raised To $300,000

Hiroshi Ishida
April 5, 2007
The Asahi Shimbun

ASUNCION -- The captors of a Japanese official of the Unification Church in Paraguay and his secretary have raised their ransom demand from $25,000 to $300,000 (about 36 million yen), sources close to the investigation said Tuesday.

The price apparently includes the release of two others who were seized with the pair.

Some investigators here speculate the kidnappers raised their ransom demand in hopes of seeing how much the Korean cult will pay for the release of Hirokazu Ota, according to the sources.

Ota, 62, president of land management company Victoria and an executive of the local arm of the church, and his secretary, Sawako Yamaguchi, 37, were snatched at gunpoint from their car while traveling in the eastern province of Caaguazu.

They were driving back to the capital where they live after attending a meeting of the Unification Church in Ciudad del Este, near the border with Brazil. A Paraguayan police officer and an acquaintance who happened on the scene were also seized.

Police believe the captors belong to a crime syndicate that targets the wealthy for ransom, the sources said.

The Unification Church is widely regarded in Paraguay as having considerable economic clout after it began buying up vast tracts of land in 2000 to prepare for "a global food crisis in the future."

It is raising 15,000 head of cattle on one 700,000-hectare farm in the north of the country.

The Unification Church began building a presence in Paraguay around 1975, according to followers, who are known as Moonies.

Along the way, it built strong ties with business and political leaders in the country, they said.

Its membership stands at about 800, most of them Paraguayans.

The Unification Church is known for holding mass weddings. The sources said the group had conducted at least one mass wedding in Paraguay and that its leader, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, had visited the country.

Its purchase of estates around Paraguay attracted strong media attention, which led to friction with the national government.

The government seized a 50,000-hectare estate after the church's purchase of the tract drew fire in August 2005.

Ota assumed the post of the president of the Victoria Land Management company in October 2006 to settle the dispute. (IHT/Asahi: April 5,2007)

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