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The Truly Fishy Side of the Unification Church

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Do you care if your sushi is part of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's empire? A special report in the Chicago Tribune profiles True World Group, a vertically integrated supplier of fish from boat to table.

It builds fleets of boats, runs dozens of distribution centers and, each day, supplies most of the nation's estimated 9,000 sushi restaurants. [For interactive graphic, click here.]

Although few seafood lovers may consider they're indirectly supporting Moon's religious movement, they do just that when they eat a buttery slice of tuna or munch on a morsel of eel in many restaurants. True World is so ubiquitous that 14 of 17 prominent Chicago sushi restaurants surveyed by the Tribune said they were supplied by the company.

The links between True World's various companies (including crystal tschotchkes as well as foods, specialty grocery stores, various restaurants in the Northeast/Midwest, and boats) and the Unification Church are not noted on any of the websites. And just how directly they're linked is a matter of dispute. The Trib quotes the Rev. Phillip Schanker, a Unification Church spokesman that True World is "not organizationally or legally connected" to the church, but simply "businesses founded by members of the Unification Church."

But links between Moon's religious organization and the fish businesses are spelled out in court and government records as well as in statements by Moon and his top church officials. For one thing, Moon personally devised the seafood strategy, helped fund it at its outset and served as a director of one of its earliest companies.

Moon's Unification Church is organized under a tax-exempt non-profit entity called The Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity. The businesses are controlled by a separate non-profit company called Unification Church International Inc., or UCI.

That company's connections to Moon's Unification Church go deeper than the shared name. A 1978 congressional investigation into Moon's businesses concluded: "It was unclear whether the UCI had any independent functions other than serving as a financial clearinghouse for various Moon organization subsidiaries and projects."
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Sometimes the links are more direct. The boatbuilding firm US Marine Corporation shares its headquarters offices with the church and lists the church as its majority shareholder, according to corporate records.

It's an interesting story about a company's 30-plus years in the making, which included the purchases of large portions of fishing villages, and a drive to expand the market overseas. It's a huge enterprise: True World Foods alone had $250 million in revenue last year. There's also a good sidebar about how the church is becoming more mainstream.

If you can't swallow supporting this or any religious group with your sushi, well, you may have a problem. True World sells really good fish.

Wang Kim, a Chicago-area youth ministry director and Moon critic, was certain he could find local Korean Christian sushi restaurateurs who didn't use True World because they might consider his views heretical. As Kim said, Moon "says that he is the Messiah, and we hate that."

But Kim called back empty-handed. "I checked with several of my friends,'' he said, "and they know it is from Moon but they have to use [them because] they have to give quality to their customers."