Aum Shinri-kyo and Related Controversies
TOKYO - The Tokyo District Court on Wednesday ordered AUM Shinrikyo religious cult founder Shoko Asahara to pay about 464 million yen in compensation to eight relatives of four victims of a June 1994 sarin gas attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture.
In handing down the ruling, Presiding Judge Kazuo Ichimiya said Asahara ''sufficiently acknowledged the lethality of sarin and conducted the crime with the intention of murdering many residents in the neighborhood.''
The plaintiffs filed the 545 million yen damages suit in August 1995, about one year after the attack. But proceedings were suspended for nearly four years after the court decided in December 1996 to observe the proceedings of Asahara's trial on criminal charges.
Considering evidence and testimony from former senior cult members, Ichimiya ruled the attack was a planned and organized crime under Asahara's instructions and carried out by cult members. The court decided in February this year not to put Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, on the stand, believing the leader would not testify voluntarily.
Seven people were killed and 144 others injured in the gas attack on the central Japan city at around 10:40 p.m. on June 27, 1994. The crime is believed to have been carried out in connection with a separate civil suit in which the cult was trying to obtain land in Matsumoto to establish an AUM Shinrikyo branch.
Fearing an unfavorable ruling, the cult released sarin gas near the home of the presiding judge. The attack was allegedly also organized by Asahara to test the effectiveness of sarin, which was later used in an attack on the Tokyo subway system.
''Defendant (Asahara) had absolute power within the cult and planned the murder of the judge with a sense of crisis on the ruling at the Nagano District Court's Matsumoto branch,'' Ichimiya said.
Asahara has been ordered to pay more than 2.5 billion yen in compensation in connection with cases allegedly committed by the cult throughout the country, but has no funds and therefore payment is considered unlikely.
In this case, the judge awarded less compensation than the plaintiffs had originally asked for because they had already received payments from a court-appointed trustee in the cult's bankruptcy.
In March 1998, the plaintiffs and the cult reached a settlement in which the cult agreed to pay about 510 million yen in compensation.
In June 1996, the plaintiffs sued nine other cult members allegedly involved in the 1994 gas attack. The nine were ordered to pay a total of 100 million yen in damages to the plaintiffs. However, it is said that none of the payments have been made.
Asahara has been indicted on 13 criminal charges, including those related to a 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system which left 12 people dead and injured thousands.
TOKYO - The cult guru accused of masterminding the deadly Tokyo subway gassing in 1995 was ordered on Wednesday to pay $3.7 million to the families of four victims killed in a separate poison attack.
The Tokyo District Court said it found Shoko Asahara, 46, guilty of plotting the June 27, 1994, sarin gas assault in the central Japanese city of Matsumoto.
Seven people were killed and 144 others sickened in the attack on a quiet residential area. The gassing was carried out by members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult, which advocated overthrowing the Japanese government by sowing chaos.
Asahara is still on trial for numerous charges, including the March 1995 nerve gas attack on Tokyo's subway system that killed 12 people and sickened thousands of others during morning rush-hour.
In August, 1995, eight family members of four victims killed in the Matsumoto attack sued Asahara and the cult, seeking a combined compensation of $4.4 million.
The plaintiffs claimed the attack was carried out by Asahara and his group. Throughout the trial, Asahara denied producing sarin or ordering the attack.
With the latest ruling, the total amount Asahara has been ordered to pay for victims killed or injured in a series of cult-led attacks exceeds $20 million, Kyodo News agency said.
Asahara has not yet compensated any of the victims because he doesn't have the ability to pay, Kyodo said.
After Wednesday's ruling, the plaintiffs told reporters that they will examine Asahara's assets before seeking a court injunction to have his property seized, Kyodo said.
Aum Shinrikyo was declared bankrupt in March 1996. The cult has regrouped under a new name, Aleph. It is under surveillance by Japan's Public Safety Agency, which has warned that the group is still a threat.
Several former cult leaders have been sentenced to death for their roles in the 1995 subway gassing and other killings. Asahara himself did not directly take part in either the Matsumoto or Tokyo gassings.
NAGOYA - The Nagoya branch of AUM Shinrikyo is preparing to move to new premises in the center of Nagoya that may become the cult's new headquarters for central Japan, the police said Monday.
The branch plans to move to a four-story building in Naka Ward, renting rooms on the second and third floors with total floor space of about 200 square meters, police officials said, adding that cult members have been preparing the rooms since the middle of this month.
The building is owned by a company in Nishi Ward but rented out to a real estate company in Chuo Ward that sublets it.
The president of the company which owns the building told Kyodo News he is aware the cult may move into the building but that sublets are left to the real estate company.
The real estate company declined to comment on the issue.
The AUM branch currently occupies a building in Nagoya's Nishi Ward. It vacated the building once before in December 1999 but returned in August last year after promising the landlord it would stop holding religious seminars there.
However, religious activities continued and AUM followers have frequented the building, according to investigators.
The landlord notified the cult it would have to leave the building when the contract expires July 31 after local residents demanded the cult to move out of the area, the police said.
Russian security agents have arrested the last of four suspects accused of planning explosions in Japan to demand freedom for the leader of the cult responsible for the fatal 1995 gas attack in the Tokyo subway.
Alexei Yurchuk was detained on July 13, just days after investigators had completed building a case against three other members of the group, a statement from the Federal Security Service, or FSB, said Monday.
The case, sent to court earlier this month, says that the Russians were adepts of the Aum Supreme Truth doomsday cult founded by now-jailed Shoko Asahara. They allegedly planned to demand Asahara's release just before last year's summit of the heads of the leading industrial powers in Japan. The group hoped that the international spotlight and the threat of bombings would make the nation more responsive.
According to excerpts of the case televised on the national ORT channel, the fanatics stockpiled bombs and weapons, arranged to enter Japan as tourists and sailors and even chose target cities - Tokyo, Aomori and Sapporo. But arrests thwarted their plans three weeks before the July 21-23, 2000 summit.
Agents of Russia's Federal Security Service, or FSB, apprehended the three members, including the leader, in the Pacific port of Vladivostok on July 1. The fourth member managed to escape then.
The FSB said Dmitry Sigachev, who led the group, obtained dlrs 100,000 to finance their conspiracy from one of the Japanese chiefs of the outlawed cult. He then traveled to Japan twice to film and photograph potential sites for planting bombs.
"We will make a short tour to the seaside and you will see the nature of Japan as well as wonderful places that will undoubtedly make history, with our help," Sigachev said, grinning in footage that the FSB said it had seized.
The potential bombing sites included congested highways, crowded streets and even a kindergarten where canisters of propane gas are stored outside.
In one of the seized photographs, Sigachev poses before a fence at Asahara's prison in Tokyo.
"The Teacher is behind this wall as yet. Nothing is indefinite," he wrote on the reverse side.
According to the ultimatum that the group planned to email to then Japan Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, it wanted the release of not only Asahara, but also his son and one of Asahara's followers, all of whom "present an exceptional value for all progressive humankind." The potential terrorists also wanted dlrs 10 million in cash.
"Otherwise, our battle group deployed on the territory of Japan will embark on the systematic and cruel extermination of Japanese and foreign citizens, without distinction between men, women, old people and children," the ultimatum threatened.
Boris Tupeiko, one of the suspects, said in a filmed interrogation that members of the group were to "take the explosives and deliver them to three locations in the cities." After making the demands, they were to "blow them up if the demands are not fulfilled," he said.
Upon release, Asahara would have been taken by boat to one of the small towns around Vladivostok where he would have hidden out in an apartment that the group had rented.
The group caught the FSB's attention when members from Moscow arrived in Vladivostok at the start of the last year. Although they had some explosives and weapons, they decided to buy more, and informers alerted the security agency.
After nearly a half-year of surveillance, agents raided a garage rented by the group and seized a Kalashnikov assault rifle, six grenades, four pistols, more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition and homemade bombs. The bombs had dynamite charges at the core and were filled with nails and screws wrapped with tape.
Two members of the group were to take jobs as sailors on a cargo ship bound for Japan and smuggle the guns and ammunition in punching bags and stereo systems.
The FSB filed charges including illegal possession of arms and illegal manufacture of explosives, but has not reported the length of prison terms the group would face if convicted.
Asahara, whose Aum cult preached that the world was coming to an end, masterminded the Tokyo subway sarin gas attack that killed 12 and made 6000 ill.
The staffers of the Maritime administration of the Federal Security Service (FSB) of Russia have detained a member of the Aum Shinrikyo sect. As RIA Novosti was told in the FSB regional administration on Monday, detenu Alexei Yurchuk was on the federal wanted list.
According to the FSB staffers' information, three other members of this extremist religious organisation were detained in the Maritime (Primorye) Territory (the Russian Far East) earlier. As it was found out in the course of the investigation, these sectarians were militants who intended to penetrate into Japan.
The materials of the criminal case, opened against them, have now been submitted to the Territorial court.
In expert opinion, in the Maritime Territory there is no operating staff or centre belonging to the sect. All the sectarians, detained in the Territory, came here from the central regions of the country.
Hundreds of videos featuring AUM Shinrikyo guru Shoko Asahara advocating murder as a religious belief have been seized from a member of the doomsday cult, police said Tuesday.
Public safety authorities believe that Asahara -- detained in the Tokyo Detention Center while his mass-murder trial remains in session -- retains enormous influence over AUM followers and have pledged to keep a close watch on the cult.
AUM has publicly announced it has disavowed the teachings of Asahara, the suspected mastermind of the 1995 lethal gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, but public safety officials dispute the claim.
"When the guru says, 'kill that,' it's time has come," Asahara says in the terrifying video. "When an acolyte kills, the victim has been ritually murdered. That is the best time to kill."
The cult has claimed that all materials relating to the murderous teaching have been destroyed.
Police said 1,700 videos and cassette tapes were seized after a raid on an apartment in Sumida-ku, Tokyo, following a false report from a male member of the cult that he had moved into the abode, but had not actually done so.
It is believed the Sumida-ku apartment was used by the cult as a storage area for videos. It was raided after a cult member tried to register it as an official address in an attempt to claim unemployment benefits.
A spokesman for AUM, now calls itself Aleph, argued that the killer videos are not used in their current training.
"We kept the videos at the room to check whether they are suitable for teachings of Aleph. If they are not, they will be destroyed," the spokesman said.
TOKYO - Investigators found a picture of AUM Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara in the apartment of Fumihiro Joyu, the cult's leading member, during a police raid Tuesday on the apartment in Tokyo's Setagaya Ward, the police said.
According to the police, Joyu's apartment is the religious group's de facto headquarters and the raid was carried out in connection with an AUM member's suspected false residence registration with the Sumida Ward office.
The police said the finding of the picture of Asahara indicates that Joyu, 38, and other AUM members still worship the founder, who is being tried on a number of charges, including the March 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system which killed 12 people and injured thousands.
Joyu told investigators that he uses the picture for religious seminars, the police said.
Under new rules of the religious group, which now calls itself Aleph, pictures of Asahara, 46, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, should not be put up at altars and other places.
The group's regulations on Asahara say, ''We do not deify him or see him as absolute as to justify the crimes. But we purely evaluate and succeed to the religious components.''
In the police search of nine locations, some 1,700 videocassettes were found, including ones containing sermons by Asahara, the police said.
According to the police, a 38-year-old AUM member submitted to the Sumida Ward Office a false residence registration on March 22, maintaining that he had moved to an apartment in the ward from Ishikawa Prefecture, even though he does not live in the apartment.
The police said the cult is probably involved in the case because it instructs followers to inform it whenever they transfer their residence registry.
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