Aum Shinri-kyo and Related Controversies
Prosecutors may not indict four AUM Shinrikyo cult-linked suspects arrested over the 1995 shooting of the then National Police Agency chief due to a lack of credible evidence, investigation sources said Sunday.
As doubts linger over the credibility of testimonies by former police officer Toshiyuki Kosugi, among the four arrested, prosecutors believe it would be difficult to sustain a trial without being able to pinpoint who actually shot Takaji Kunimatsu, the sources said.
A senior AUM Shinrikyo member suspected to be involved in the 1995 shooting of then National Police Agency chief Takaji Kunimatsu denied involvement during police questioning Saturday, investigative sources said.
Kiyohide Hayakawa, 55, is suspected of having commanded the shooting in front of Kunimatsu's apartment in Tokyo's Arakawa Ward around 8:30 a.m. March 30, 1995.
A former AUM Shinrikyo cult member denied Tuesday allegations that he shot then National Police Agency chief Takaji Kunimatsu in March 1995, investigative sources said.
Satoru Hashimoto, 37, who is currently appealing a death sentence in a separate murder case, was quoted as telling investigators in the Tokyo detention house, "I did not do that."
A former police officer under arrest in connection with the 1995 shooting of the chief of the National Police Agency was asked by a senior female Aum Shinrikyo member to survey the shooting site five days before the attack, according to investigation sources.
Police believe the Aum member was a close aide to cult founder Shoko Asahara, the sources said. The 43-year-old woman has been convicted for playing a role in one of the crimes committed by the cult.
The Metropolitan Police Department is trying to determine whether Asahara, who is contesting a death sentence handed down in February for a series of Aum's crimes, was also behind the March 1995 shooting of the NPA chief
The former police officer, Toshiyuki Kosugi, a one-time member of Aum, is one of four people arrested Wednesday in connection with the shooting of then NPA chief Takaji Kunimatsu.
MPD officials questioning Kosugi, 39, have quoted him as saying he contacted the woman after receiving a phone call from another senior Aum member, Yoshihiro Inoue, 34, on March 25, 1995, asking him to call the woman.
Kosugi, who was an active police officer at that time, had met the woman in 1988, when he joined the cult.
The MPD believes Aum was trying to use Kosugi's status as a police officer for the shooting plot, the sources said.
The sources have earlier quoted Kosugi as saying he felt the cult exploited him in the shooting scheme. MPD investigators suspect an Aum "execution squad" intended to use Kosugi to enable it to get past security checks and possible police questioning.
Kosugi has been quoted as saying that he thought if he had to flee with the actual gunman, they could get by police even if stopped for questioning by flashing his police handbook.
Investigation authorities have found that a man resembling another cultist, Satoru Hashimoto, 37, who police suspect carried out the shooting, accompanied Kosugi when he visited an area outside Kunimatsu's home in Arakawa Ward in March 1995.
Hashimoto is currently appealing a death sentence in a separate murder case.
Kosugi has told police he met with a group of men at a Tokyo subway station before going to the site and one of them resembled Hashimoto, the sources said.
According to the sources, Kosugi said he was asleep in a car at the time of the shooting and that he felt "used" by the cult.
The shooting occurred outside Kunimatsu's home at around 8:30 a.m. March 30, 1995. Kunimatsu, who was then directing investigations into suspicions surrounding the cult, was shot three times in the abdomen and was seriously injured.
Tokyo police had launched a series of raids into Aum facilities following the March 20, 1995, deadly sarin gas attack on the subway system that killed 12 people and sickened more than 5,500.
An Aum Shinrikyo cultist on death row almost certainly fired the shots meant to kill National Police Agency chief Takaji Kunimatsu in Tokyo in 1995, sources say.
Satoru Hashimoto, 37, was sentenced to death for his part in the murder of anti-Aum lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto and his wife and infant son, and other Aum crimes. Hashimoto's appeal against the sentence is now with the Supreme Court.
Hashimoto's name cropped up during questioning of Toshiyuki Kosugi, 39, a former police officer and disciple of the cult who was arrested Wednesday with two other cultists in connection with the shooting, according to sources close to the investigation.
Kosugi, who in 1996 confessed to being the shooter and later retracted the statement, told investigators he received a telephone call the day before the shooting from Kiyohide Hayakawa, 54, a top aide to cult founder Chizuo Matsumoto, 49, to ``cooperate.''
On the morning of March 30, 1995, Kosugi said a vehicle driven by a man ``resembling Hashimoto'' came to pick him up at a police dormitory in Tokyo's Hongo. Kosugi said he was driven to Arakawa Ward, where Kunimatsu lived.
Hayakawa and Tetsuya Uemura, 49, who was arrested Wednesday along with Kosugi, were waiting for him, Kosugi said.
Kunimatsu, then the nation's top police official, was shot and seriously injured as he left his residence to go to work. The shooter fled the scene by bicycle.
Witnesses placed men resembling Hayakawa and Hashimoto near the scene.
Hashimoto was a former senior member of the cult's ``home affairs ministry'' and Hayakawa served as ``construction minister.''
Kosugi kept referring to someone who resembled Hashimoto, which suggests he was not on close terms with the cultist.
Kosugi told police that the man who he thought was Hashimoto asked to borrow his coat, which Kosugi duly handed over, after arriving near the apartment block.
Kosugi waited in the vehicle but fell asleep. He was awakened by a loud noise as several men, including the man he believed to be Hashimoto, got back in the car.
Kosugi was dropped off about 3 kilometers away, in Bunkyo Ward.
At that point, the coat was returned to Kosugi with a suggestion he send it to a dry cleaner's right away.
Kosugi got the garment cleaned that morning, apparently to erase traces of gunshot residue that was discharged when shots were fired.
Metropolitan Police Department investigators are convinced Hashimoto was the shooter.
But Hashimoto refuses to discuss the case, sources said.
Kosugi, a police officer at the time, was transferred from his usual beat to the Tsukiji Police Station, where the investigation team for the March 20, 1995, sarin nerve-gas attack on Tokyo's subway system was based.
In his spare time, however, Kosugi would check out the area where the NPA chief lived, sources said.
Hayakawa and Hashimoto are known to have returned from Russia, where the cult also had followers, on March 22, just after the sarin attack. Hayakawa is believed to have been in overall charge of the attempt on Kunimatsu's life.
Police on Thursday raided several cult facilities, including its headquarters in Tokyo's Setagaya Ward, in connection with the shooting.
Top members of the AUM Shinrikyo cult, including those involved in the March 1995 shooting attack on a police chief, gathered at a cult facility in Yamanashi Prefecture, where its founder Shoko Asahara was hiding, shortly before the incident, police said.
The shooting of then National Police Agency chief Takaji Kunimatsu occurred about a week after police raided the cult's facilities across the country over its sarin gas attack on Tokyo subway trains and other crimes.
Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) investigators suspect that Asahara summoned his top aides to plot the attack on Kunimatsu in a bid to obstruct police investigations into the cult.
Local police confirmed that Kiyohide Hayakawa, 54, Tetsuya Uemura, 49, and Satoru Hashimoto, 37, were in the AUM building in the village of Kamikuishiki in the predawn hours of March 30 where Asahara was hiding at the time.
Later in the day, Kunimatsu was shot in front of his condominium in Arakawa-ku, Tokyo, and suffered serious wounds that took 18 months to heal.
Toshiyuki Kosugi, 39, a former senior officer at the MPD who previously belonged to the cult, told investigators that he met Hayakawa, Uemura and Hashimoto near the scene. Kosugi was arrested Wednesday over the shooting case.
Investigators suspect that Hayakawa played a leading role in the shooting, and that Hashimoto pulled the trigger of the gun, while Uemura acted as a "dummy" by posing as the gunman and fleeing the scene by bicycle.
Hashimoto, who had been in Russia and Yugoslavia since early February 1995, and Hayakawa, who had been in Moscow, returned to Japan on the same flight on March 22 -- the day when police launched raids on the cult facilities.
Police also suspect that Hashimoto underwent shooting training in Europe and Asia between 1992 and 1995.
Police on Tuesday arrested a high-ranking member of the AUM Shinrikyo cult, and raided about 50 cult-related facilities over the group's unauthorized sales of a cream it claimed could treat atopic dermatitis.
The high-ranking member, Naruhito Noda, 37, was reportedly arrested with four other members of the organization, which is now calling itself Aleph.
Police accuse Noda and the other members of selling about 2,300 cream products to around 720 people nationwide between February last year and April this year without the necessary permission from the Tokyo governor, earning an estimated 19 million yen.
Contained in the cream were ingredients of steroids that can cause side effects, investigators said.
Investigators suspect sales of the cream were systematically carried out under the authority of cult executives.
Noda is one of five members of the cults ranking second to Fumihiro Joyu, the leader of the group. He is believed to be responsible for raising money for the organization, and police safety officials are working to trace the money the cult is thought to have raised through its sales.
In documents submitted to the Public Security Intelligence Agency, AUM listed Noda as an "executive." He entered the cult in 1988, and in 1995, the year when AUM carried out its deadly sarin attack on Tokyo's subway system, he was the head of the cult's "Vehicle Ministry."
About half of the group's funds come out of the pockets of its adherents through offerings, but recently this amount has been dropping.
In May it held a spring seminar at 11 locations nationwide, but only 370 people attended, compared with about 400 the previous year. Only about 25 people went through the expensive initiation, far fewer than the 300 for the same period the previous year.
The date for an appeal trial of Aum Supreme Truth cult founder Chizuo Matsumoto, 49, also known as Shoko Asahara, has not yet been decided, even though four months have passed since Matsumoto was sentenced to death by the Tokyo District Court, because he has refused to meet with new lawyers.
The records from the first trial were sent to the Tokyo High Court, which is handling the appeal, with unusual speed. The stalled trial procedures have upset victims and family members of victims of the cult.
The first trial at the Tokyo District Court took seven years and 10 months to reach a ruling on the case, producing about 55,000 pages of trial records.
Usually, after a ruling is handed down, it takes a period of time for the first trial records, which have to be classified into evidence material, investigators' records of oral statements and experts' opinions to be sent to the higher court.
It took 14 months for the trial records on Seiichi Endo, a former senior cult member, to be sent to a higher court, and nine months for Yoshihiro Inoue's trial records to reach a higher court.
Endo, who was sentenced to death, has appealed to a higher court, and Inoue has appealed his death sentence to the Supreme Court.
Despite Matsumoto's case producing a greater volume of trial records, they were sent to the Tokyo High Court only two months after the Tokyo District Court ruling because it reportedly sorted out the documents before the case was ruled on.
But trial procedures have come to a standstill since the transfer of the trial records to the high court.
Under criminal procedure rules, after receiving the trial records, a high court must give the appellant a date as soon as possible for the submission of a statement on reasons for appeal.
The high court has yet to set a date for the hearing due to Matsumoto's refusal to see his lawyers.
Matsumoto's lawyers said they were not in a situation to plan the statement as it was necessary to talk to Matsumoto to map out defense strategies.
They also said that it was too early to schedule a day for the submission of the statement, referring to a recent trend encouraging speedy trials.
There is no question that time is needed as it took between 19 months and three years to start the appeal trials by other former senior cult leaders, who were sentenced to death by the district court.
But a veteran judge took issue with Matsumoto's refusal to meet with his lawyers during the first trial.
"It was expected that he wouldn't see his lawyers for his appeal. This shouldn't be the reason they can't write the statement," he said, adding that if the lawyers were incapable of submitting the statement, the court should use its power to consider court-appointed lawyers for Matsumoto.
But court-appointed lawyers are usually only named when a defendant cannot hire lawyers for himself.
A former Aum Shinrikyo cult member has been without a defense lawyer for some 20 months after a district court sentenced him to death for his part in the deadly sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995 and other charges, judicial sources said Thursday.
The Tokyo High Court has been unable to schedule hearings for an appeal by Seiichi Endo, 44, against his death sentence, they said. The initial Tokyo District Court ruling said Endo, along with two other members of the doomsday cult now named Aleph, produced sarin gas used in the attack that killed a dozen people and injured more than 5,000.
Seven members of the AUM Shinrikyo cult were arrested Thursday for selling anti-atopic dermatitis cream without permission, Tokyo police said.
Takashi Inoue, 35, head of the cult's Tokyo training hall, and others are accused of violating the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law. Two others under arrest for producing the illegal drugs were served with new arrest warrants accusing them of selling the cream.
Investigators from the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) also raided about 20 locations related to the cult to see if the cult used the proceeds from sales of the illegal drugs to raise funds for its activities.
Inoue and the eight others sold 63 sets of cream that they claim is effective in curing anti-atopic dermatitis to 12 people between March last year and April this year without permission from the Tokyo governor, the MPD said. They netted about 500,000 yen from the sales.
However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Investigators suspect that the cultists have sold about 5,900 sets of the cream for a combined amount of about 47 million yen.
Some customers who used the cream complained that their skin became chapped because of side-effects from steroids used in the cream.
A Japanese appeals court has sentenced the former intelligence chief of the Aum Supreme Truth cult to death for abetting the deadly 1995 gas attack on Tokyo's subway, scrapping a life sentence imposed by a lower court.
The Tokyo High Court handed down a sentence of capital punishment on Yoshihiro Inoue, 34, who escaped the gallows in the initial ruling on the grounds that he had not been in the train to release the deadly gas and regretted his actions.
His lawyers immediately filed an appeal with the Supreme Court.
In June 2000, the Tokyo District Court sentenced Inoue to life in prison sentence on 10 counts of murder, including the Sarin nerve gas attack which killed 12 people and injured thousands.
Sparing him from the gallows, the judge told Inoue: "Spend your days in repentance by not escaping into religion."
Prosecutors, who had demanded the death penalty, appealed.
They argued he commanded the doomsday cult squad which released the Nazi-invented Sarin gas into Tokyo subway trains during the morning rush-hour on March 20, 1995.
Inoue admitted his involvement in all 10 cases, but said he only assisted the subway attack by "carrying messages to the commando group," not by actually releasing the gas.
In December 1995, he issued a message from his prison cell urging diehard followers to forsake the sect's founder, Shoko Asahara, because his teachings "resemble the truth but actually are not."
Asahara, 49, was sentenced to death in February for masterminding the subway massacre to avenge a police crackdown on his cult and ordering many other crimes.
Aum Shinrikyo cult founder Shoko Asahara has refused to see his lawyer who will defend him in his appeal against his death sentence handed down by the Tokyo District Court in February, the lawyer told Kyodo News on Wednesday.
Takeshi Matsui, who belongs to the Tokyo No. 2 Bar Association, said he cannot form a defense strategy in the appeal at the Tokyo High Court because of Asahara's refusal to cooperate.
A Japanese court has upheld the death sentence for a high-ranking former Aum Supreme Truth cult member over the murder of an anti-sect lawyer and his family.
The Tokyo High Court rejected an appeal by Kiyohide Hayakawa, 54, who was one of the founding members of the doomsday cult and built a plant to produce the Nazi-invented Sarin nerve gas at the foot of Mount Fuji.
The Aum cult earned worldwide notoriety in March 1995 by spreading Sarin on the Tokyo subway, killing 12 people and injuring thousands.
Hayakawa was convicted of strangling Tsutsumi Sakamoto, 33, his 29-year-old wife and baby son in 1989, constructing the Sarin plant and the murder of a cult follower, among other crimes.
The bodies of Sakamoto, an anti-cult campaigner who gave advice to cult deserters, his wife Satoko and one-year-old son were only discovered in September 1995, buried in shallow graves.
Dressed in a grey business suit and open-necked shirt, Hayakwa stood rigidly at the witness stand Friday as presiding judge Taketaka Nakagawa rejected his appeal and said "it was fair that the initial ruling judged he had played a crucial role" in the assault.
He bowed slightly and returned to his seat in the dock, silently jotting down something on a notebook and smiling to the public gallery as if he recognised a friend, according to Jiji Press news agency.
Tomoyuki Oyama, the 73-year-old father of Satoko, the murdered wife, urged Hayakawa not to lodge a further appeal, while a defence lawyer told reporters his client would take the case to the Supreme Court.
"Our belief that he should face capital punishment is unchanged although it will not heal our sorrow," Oyama said in a statement.
Hayakawa was sentenced to hang in July 2000. Hayakawa was convicted of personally throttling Sakamoto's wife as the couple begged the Aum followers not to harm their baby boy.
His defence counsel had argued his mind had been under the control of Aum guru Shoko Asahara, who was himself sentenced to death in February after a marathon trial.
A university in Tokyo announced Thursday it has accepted the enrollment of the third daughter of Aum Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara.
The move follows a court injunction ordering Bunkyo University in Tokyo's Shinagawa Ward to reverse its earlier rejection of the 21-year-old woman.
"We decided to respect the court injunction and accepted the enrollment," said Nobuharu Yashima, a university spokesman.
In February, the university notified the woman, whose name is being withheld, that she had passed an entrance exam to the institution.
It later canceled the enrollment decision, however, after verifying the woman's identity.
In the wake of a complaint from the woman, the Tokyo District Court on April 28 acknowledged that she had a right to study at the college.
A Japanese court ordered a university to allow the daughter of a doomsday cult leader to enroll, rejecting the school's argument that her presence would be disruptive, media reported Friday.
Bunkyo University initially admitted the youngest daughter of Shoko Asahara, leader of the Aum Shinrikyo cult responsible for a sarin nerve gas attack in Tokyo's subways in 1995 that killed 12 people. The school reversed its decision after realizing who her father was.
The Tokyo District Court ruled the school did not have a legitimate reason for withdrawing its acceptance offer.
Court-appointed lawyers may defend Aum Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara in his death penalty appeal as the one private lawyer currently representing him may not be able to handle the case on his own, trial sources said Saturday.
According to the sources, some judges at the Tokyo High Court are concerned that unless several lawyers are appointed by the court to defend Asahara, the appellate trial could extend over too long a period.
It is extremely rare for state-appointed lawyers to defend an accused party who already has a private lawyer, but some judges are advocating the measure because this is an "exceptionally large case."
In February, the Tokyo District Court imposed the death sentence on Asahara, 49, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, following nearly eight years of deliberations.
It found him guilty of all 13 charges leveled against him, including murder and attempted murder in the 1995 sarin attack on the Tokyo subway system.
Although a team of 12 state-appointed lawyers had appealed the ruling to the Tokyo High Court, they are not defending Asahara in the appeal trial.
Takeshi Matsui, a lawyer who represents two of Asahara's daughters, will be working for Asahara during the high court trial.
According to the sources, some judges at the Tokyo High Court are opposed to appointing public defenders for Asahara.
Judge Masaru Suda, who will preside over the appeal trial, will have the final say in the matter.
Even with more than 10 lawyers on the case, Asahara's trial at the Tokyo District Court took about seven years and 10 months, with its dossier exceeding 50,000 pages.
The court might broadly interpret the Criminal Procedure Law's clause so that "a defendant who does not have a lawyer" could also include "cases where trials may not proceed smoothly with just one lawyer."
A private university in Tokyo that rejected the enrollment of a daughter of Aum Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara is now discussing ways in which it may accept her, it was learned Friday.
The move comes on the heels of the Tokyo District Court's acknowledgment earlier this week that the 21-year-old woman has a right to study at the college.
Bunkyo University in Tokyo's Shinagawa Ward had rejected the enrollment of the third daughter of Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, in late March. The guru has been sentenced to hang for the cult's murderous spree of a decade ago.
Bunkyo made this decision even though she had passed the entrance exam to the college's department of clinical psychology in February.
College spokesman Nobuharu Yashima said the school had reviewed the profiles of accepted applicants after learning that Wako University in western Tokyo rejected the enrollment of the woman on March 12.
After verifying the woman's identity, the board of professors at Bunkyo University decided March 24 against allowing her to study at the school. They sent her a letter of cancellation, citing concerns among "other students, their parents, graduates, teachers and local residents."
The woman sought an injunction at the Tokyo District Court on March 31, demanding that the court acknowledge her right to study at the college. The court acknowledged this right Wednesday.
In response to the ruling, Bunkyo University has reopened discussions on whether or how she may be accepted.
The board of professors at the college will make a final decision after the Golden Week holidays, but it will be difficult for the school to contravene the court injunction, Yashima said.
He added that the university had rejected her enrollment amid suspicion that the woman still has ties with Aum, which now calls itself Aleph.
It judged that her enrollment could upset not only other students but also local residents in Koshigaya, Saitama Prefecture, where the department of psychology is located.
There was an Aum facility in Koshigaya until around 2002, which stirred up strong protests among local residents.
This is the third confirmed case since last year in which the woman has been rejected by a university after passing entrance exams.
She has passed "daiken" academic exams, which are required for those who did not finish high school and wish to take college entrance exams.
Of Asahara's six children, his fourth daughter is currently enrolled at a public junior high school in a city in Ibaraki Prefecture.
His two sons attend a public elementary school in the same city.
The trio also faced strong opposition from residents until they were allowed to attend local schools in 2001.
Eizo Yamagiwa, head of the Society for Human Rights and Mass Media Conduct, a citizens' group that has supported Asahara's children, hailed the school's moves toward accepting the woman, saying she has a strong desire to enter a Japanese college and live a normal life in Japanese society.
"It is so feudal that children of a criminal are made to pay a social fine for the parent's crimes," he said.
One of Aum Shinrikyo cult founder Shoko Asahara's daughters was rejected for enrollment by Bunkyo University, though she had earlier been accepted, university officials said Friday. The move came after Wako University, also in Tokyo, rejected the 21-year-old after discovering she is the third daughter of Asahara.
Nobuharu Yashima, managing executive at Bunkyo University, said the institution rejected her because "it is still suspected that she has relations with the group and her presence may damage the calm environment of our students and local community."
Ichiro Murakami, the leader of a neo-fascist samurai sword appreciation society, has pleaded guilty to a series of charges, including violent attacks on pro-Pyongyang Koreans and the AUM Shinrikyo death cult.
Murakami, 55, entered the guilty plea at the opening of his Tokyo District Court trial for a series of alleged crimes including blackmail and firearms control law violations.
The court also heard that Murakami had deliberately gone out to attack high profile targets to gain publicity for his ultra right-wing beliefs, then boasted about his bravado to members of his club.
Prosecutors said Murakami formed his samurai sword appreciation society in about 1995, then used it to launch an arson attack on the Fukui Prefecture branch of Chosen Soren, the organization of ethnic Koreans in Japan who support North Korea's hermetic communist regime. The attack, prosecutors said, was a reprisal for Pyongyang's kidnapping of Japanese citizens.
However, when response to the attack was muffled, prosecutors said Murakami escalated his campaign of terror, forming a new group trained in the use of firearms and targeting AUM Shinrikyo, the group that unleashed the lethal 1995 gassing of the Tokyo subway system.
Murakami's group was also responsible for threats and shootings directed at prominent politicians, including former top Liberal Democratic Party stalwarts Hiromu Nonaka and Koichi Kato.
Murakami is one of 15 charged in connection with the attacks.
The Bureau of Immigration (B.I.) Monday issued on Monday an order banning the entry of two Japanese suspected as members of a doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo that was responsible for the nerve-gas attack on a Tokyo subway that killed 12 people and injured hundreds of passengers in 1995.
Immigration Commissioner Alipio Fernandez Jr. listed Koichi Ninomiya and Hiroki Tsuno, alleged ranking members of the Aum Shinrikyo, on the bureau's blacklist following reports that the cult members were scheduled to visit Manila within the next few days.
Fernandez said that as a result of the blacklist order, the duo will be barred from entering the country should they proceed with their planned trip to Manila.
He disclosed that immigration authorities at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport and other ports of entry have been alerted to prevent the two Japanese from slipping into the country.
"Although the reports did not indicate that these two cult members planned to carry out terror attacks on Manila, the government cannot take chances by allowing the entry of aliens who are considered threats to our peace and security," said Fernandez.
The Department of Foreign Affairs informed the B.I. about the planned visit of Ninomiya and Tsuno in Manila, based on a report received from the Philippine Embassy in Tokyo.
The embassy said the duo planned to take a Japan Airlines flight from Nagoya, Japan, to Manila anytime this week and stay here for two days.
Lawyer Gary Mendoza, B.I. immigration regulations chief, said both Ninomiya and Tsuno had previously visited Manila based on the bureau's computerized travel records.
Mendoza said Ninomiya was here only on March 12, 2004, and left the following day, while Tsuno arrived on August 2, 2002, and departed on August 29 of the same year.
The sarin-gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995 is one of the deadliest terror attacks on Japanese history.
The doomsday cult is still considered a threat to society, using businesses to expand membership and remaining faithful to its convicted guru's violent teachings, the Japanese government said in a report Friday.
Followers of Aum Shinrikyo - whose former leader, Shoko Asahara, was sentenced to death in February - have set up more than 10 companies nationwide, including computer software makers, the Japan Public Security Investigation Agency reported.
The cult, which has changed its name to Aleph and remains under close surveillance by Japanese authorities, says the businesses are intended to raise funds to compensate victims of the subway gassing and other cult crimes.
The 12 defense lawyers for Aum Supreme Truth founder Chizuo Matsumoto were paid a combined 452 million yen - more than any other team of court-appointed lawyers representing a single defendant - The Yomiuri Shimbun learned Monday.
The 49-year-old Matsumoto - also known as Shoko Asahara - was sentenced to death by the Tokyo District Court on Feb. 27 after being found guilty on 13 charges at the end of a trial that involved 257 hearings over seven years and 10 months. Matsumoto is currently appealing the sentence.
The sum spent on Matsumoto's lawyers dwarfs the 47 million yen paid to the four court-assigned defense attorneys who acted for Shigeru Yagi, who was sentenced to death in October 2002 for murdering two people and attempting to murder a third for their life insurance policies. The trial of Yagi, who also is appealing the sentence, involved 90 hearings.
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