Aum Shinri-kyo and Related Controversies
The Tokyo High Court on Thursday upheld a 12-year prison term handed down to an Aum Shinrikyo defendant for attempting to kill attorney Taro Takimoto with sarin gas in May 1994.
Yoshinobu Aoyama, 41, a former cult lawyer, was found guilty by the Tokyo District Court in 2000 of attempted murder and eight other charges, including slandering a company president, harboring an Aum fugitive and submitting false documents to local authorities.
In supporting the lower court ruling, the high court agreed that Aoyama played an indispensable role in the attempt on Takimoto's life. Aoyama issued orders to other cult members to kill Takimoto at the scene and provided important details, including the victim's schedule. The court also said he knew about the deadly nature of sarin.
His defense lawyers have not decided whether to appeal the ruling to the top court.
The defense team appealed the lower court ruling, claiming Aoyama did not intend to kill Takimoto because he did not believe the nerve gas was deadly.
They argued the 12-year prison term was too severe for the charges.
According to the high court, Aoyama and four other Aum members applied liquid sarin to the outside of the windshield of Takimoto's car in May 1994 near the Kofu District Court in Yamanashi Prefecture, following cult founder Shoko Asahara's order to murder Takimoto, who supported cult members who wanted to leave the cult. Takimoto experienced minor vision impairment when he was driving home later, it said.
In another case, Aoyama submitted a false document to authorities to obtain real estate in Namino, Kumamoto Prefecture, it said.
The former lawyer also helped a wanted Aum fugitive to hide in hotels in Ishikawa Prefecture and provided him with 5 million yen between March and April 1995 to aid his flight, the lower court said.
A graduate of Kyoto University, Aoyama became a lawyer in April 1984 and joined Aum in 1989. His registration as a lawyer was nullified in June 1995 following his arrest the previous month.
TOKYO - Fumihiro Joyu, a senior member of the AUM Shinrikyo cult, said Tuesday he will formally take over the leadership of the group Wednesday.
Joyu, a longtime spokesman for the cult, said at a press conference at the cult's facility in Tokyo's Setagaya Ward, ''I have effectively led the organization until now and I adapted to the reality.'' Joyu, 39, will replace current leader Tatsuko Muraoka, 51, who will then become chairwoman, a newly established position, he said, adding, ''Muraoka wants to concentrate on her religious training.'' Referring to Shoko Asahara, the founder and a former leader of the cult, Joyu said,'' I still respect him as a meditator, but I want him to show remorse over a series of action.'' AUM, which now calls itself Aleph, is responsible for the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system and many other crimes. Asahara, 46, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, was indicted as the mastermind of various crimes, including the sarin gas attack.
With Joyu assuming the cult's leadership, public security authorities have stepped-up surveillance of AUM, believing it will launch various campaigns to evade being monitored as a potentially dangerous organization, a category which allows the authorities under a law to continue surveillance for up to three years.
Under the law enacted in December 1999, AUM was placed under surveillance from Jan. 31, 2000. The decision will be reviewed in January 2003.
Joyu has been serving as the cult's de-facto leader since completing a three-year jail term in December 1999 for perjury and falsification of documents relating to AUM's purchase of land in Kumamoto Prefecture, southwestern Japan.
Three Russians with links to the outlawed Japanese sect, Aum Shinrikyo, have been given jail sentences for plotting to bomb Japanese cities.
A court in the Russian city of Vladivostok sentenced the three men to prison terms ranging from four-and-a-half to eight years.
A fourth defendant was given a suspended sentence and a fifth was deemed insane and sent to a mental hospital.
Investigators said the men had planned to attack public places in Tokyo and Aomori in a bid to force the Japanese authorities to free the leaders of the Aum sect.
The group carried out a sarin gas attack in the Tokyo underground in 1995 in which 12 people died and thousands were injured.
The sect's leader, Asahara, has been awaiting trial since 1995.
SAITAMA -- An AUM Shinrikyo doomsday cult follower was arrested Wednesday for acting as an illegal job placement agent, police said.
Agents from Saitama police' security bureau also raided a Tokyo condominium of cult mouthpiece Fumihiro Joyu and two AUM-affiliated software companies over the matter.
The arrested man, Hiroshi Yamada, has reportedly admitted to the allegation. "I have helped people find jobs at companies I know," Yamada, of Saitama, was quoted by police as saying.
Although rarely enforced, it is illegal to introduce jobs without the permission of the labor minister.
Police said the 35-year-old cultists introduced two computer school students to a Tokyo company in February last year without telling them his real name or the fact that he is a member of AUM. The students and the Tokyo computer software company have no relation to the cult, which now calls itself Aleph, police added.
Investigators are grilling Yamada to find out his motives for introducing the students to the company free of charge without telling his true identity.
Joyu's condominium in Setagaya-ku's Minami-Karasuyama district and the two AUM-related businesses were raided because of the suspicion that the cult is illegally acting as a job placement agency, police added.
TOKYO - The trial of the leader of a Japanese doomsday cult charged with masterminding a deadly sarin gas attack on Tokyo subways hit its half-way point on Thursday, nearly six years after hearings began.
Prosecutors wrapped up their arguments at the Tokyo District Court, where Shoko Asahara, founder of the Aum Supreme Truth cult, is on trial for 13 crimes including planning and ordering the 1995 attack which killed 12 and left thousands ill, Kyodo news agency said.
The trial of Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, has come to symbolise Japan's snail-paced judicial system.
The trial began in April 1996 and legal experts say it may take at least six more years before the defence concludes its arguments and a verdict is reached.
If convicted, Asahara -- who has pleaded not guilty except to one charge of attempted murder -- is likely to be sentenced to death by hanging, the maximum penalty for murder.
A number of cult members have already been sentenced to death.
At the 218th public hearing on Thursday, the defence team cross-examined the prosecution's last witness, a former senior member of AUM accused of helping engineer the attack.
The court has proposed starting arguments by the defence on May 23, but defence lawyers want more time, Kyodo said.
"It remains unclear what the AUM members were thinking and why they did such things," Osamu Watanabe, chief defence lawyer, told a news conference. "Prosecutors say we are using stalling tactics, but this is invalid."
The cult, which has changed its name to Aleph - the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet - insists it is now a benign religious group, but the public still harbours concerns.
The deaths from anthrax in the United States following the September 11 attacks on Washington and New York revived memories of Aum, which two years before the March 1995 sarin attack sprayed anthrax into the air above its Tokyo headquarters.
Experts said the fact that it was a harmless strain designed to be used as a vaccine for cattle prevented a disaster from occurring then.
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