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Aum Shinri-kyo and Related Controversies

"Court rules gov't right to place killer cult under probation"

("Mainichi Shimbun," October 30, 2004)

The public security authorities broke no law when they invoked legislation controlling organizations involved in indiscriminate mass murders to place the AUM Shinrikyo cult under probation, a court has ruled.
The Tokyo District Court has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the cult that now calls itself Aleph demanding revocation of the Public Security Commission's decision to continue to place the cult under probation.
"It is recognized that the cult could commit indiscriminate mass murders, causing anxiety among residents of areas (where the cult's facilities are located)," the presiding judge said in handing down the decision.
The commission hailed the ruling. "The ruling is appropriate and fair. The Public Security Commission will continue to cautiously watch the development of AUM Shinrikyo," Kozo Fujita, chairman of the commission said.
The cult criticized the ruling, but said it wants to try not to cause anxiety to the public. "The ruling is obviously wrong in that it has determined that we pose danger to the public without specific reasons. We would like to continue our efforts to avoid causing anxiety to the public."
The cult was involved in a serious of crimes, including a sarin gas terror attack on Tokyo subway trains in March 1995 that left 12 people dead and thousands of others ill, and murder of anti-AUM lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, his wife and their infant son in 1989. Its founder, Shoko Asahara, was sentenced to death in February this year for masterminding the crimes, and has appealed the ruling to a higher court.
The court recognized that cult Asahara, 49, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, had influence on the cult's policy as of January 2003 when the commission decided to continue to place the cult under probation.
Moreover, the court pointed out that reforms AUM Shinrikyo carried out at the time were apparently aimed at having the commission abandon its plans to place it under probation, that numerous followers who were jailed have returned to the cult, and that the cult's organization lacks transparency.
The court then concluded that the restrictions placed on the cult and its members under the law are necessary and reasonable, and do not affect its religious activities, dismissing the cult's claim that the probation infringes on freedom of religion and is unconstitutional.
In June 2001, the Tokyo District Court ruled that the law could be invoked only in cases where the organizations concerned have actually begun preparations for indiscriminate mass murders.
In the latest ruling, however, the same court criticized the earlier ruling. "If the law were interpreted in such a way, it would be extremely difficult to prevent a recurrence of an indiscriminate mass murder, and would render the law ineffective."

"Court rejects AUM cult's request to stop surveillance"

("Kyodo," October 29, 2004)

The Tokyo District Court turned down Friday a request by the AUM Shinrikyo cult to stop government surveillance of it, saying its founder Shoko Asahara continues to wield power over members.
AUM, whose members perpetrated the sarin gas attacks in Nagano Prefecture in June 1994 and on the Tokyo subway system in March 1995, had argued in court that it no longer poses any specific danger that could lead to indiscriminate mass murder and that conditions do not warrant the state's extended surveillance of it.
But the court argued that the state's action is in line with the Constitution and is legal, and also cited how Asahara, who was sentenced to death on Feb. 27 for masterminding various crimes including the 1994 and 1995 attacks, still has power over AUM followers.
The court, however, rejected the claim by the government's Public Security Examination Commission that Asahara is still a key member of the cult, which renamed itself Aleph in January 2000.
The action to put AUM under surveillance is based on a December 1999 law that was instituted in the wake of the sarin attacks and other crimes perpetrated by AUM. Although it did not mention AUM by name, it is widely believed the law in effect targets the cult.
The law allows the Justice Ministry's Public Security Intelligence Agency to monitor any organization that has committed "indiscriminate mass murder in the past." It also enables police and security authorities to inspect the facilities of such groups without a warrant and allows the authorities to limit cult activities if they deem necessary.
In handing down the decision, Presiding Judge Yosuke Ichimura dismissed the AUM members' argument that the law was unconstitutional.
"It was formulated to ensure citizens' safety by preventing a group that caused indiscriminate killing in the past from repeating such incidents. Members of such a group deserve to be restrained," he said.
The judge also said the court will study the conditions that warrant such surveillance.
Ichimura said Asahara, 49, "even now has influence over the cult's activities mainly because senior cult members are still preaching absolute submission" to him.
The cult, now headed by Fumihiro Joyu who was previously a close aide of Asahara, has tried to make efforts to shed its criminal image.
But Ichimura said he sees no progress in the cult's efforts to reform.
"The cult still poses a danger, given that many followers who served time for past (cult-induced) crimes have returned to the cult," he said in explaining the legitimacy of the extended surveillance.
Acting on a request by the agency, the Public Security Examination Commission extended the surveillance period for AUM for another three years on Jan. 20, 2003, saying the cult is still capable of committing indiscriminate mass murder.
The first surveillance period was imposed in January 2000, prompting the cult to file a lawsuit the same year. The Tokyo District Court rejected the suit in June 2001.
After an extension was imposed, the cult again filed a lawsuit with the same district court in March 2003, calling for annulment of the extended three-year surveillance and saying the agency's action is unconstitutional.
Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, was given the death sentence for murder, attempted murder and other charges in 13 criminal cases that resulted in the death of 27 people. He remains in custody and his defense team is appealing against the ruling.

"AUM splinter group members nabbed for beating woman to death"

("Mainichi Shimbun," Japan, October 21, 2004)

Four people, including members of an AUM Shinrikyo group that continues to follow in the footsteps of AUM founder and convicted murderer Shoko Asahara, were arrested Thursday on suspicion of beating a female follower to death with a bamboo sword, police said.
Among the four arrested suspects were Yuko Kitazawa, 40, the leader of the Keroyon Group, and follower Masataka Fujibayashi, 35.
The 36-year-old woman who died was a member of the group, which formed over divisions relating to cult leadership when Asahara was arrested in 1995.
Investigators accuse the suspects of killing the woman by unleashing a beating on her that included hitting her legs with a bamboo sword as part of the group's "training" on the afternoon of Sept. 10.
After the killing, the woman's corpse was transferred to an apartment in Tokyo's Nerima-ku, and on Sept. 11, Fujibayashi filed a report with police saying, "We found her dead," law enforcers said. Members of the group claimed that she had died of an illness, but police concluded that she had died as part of the group's training after Fujibayashi reportedly told them, "We hit her with bamboos swords to drive the karma out of her."
"Karma removal" was one of the practices the splinter group had inherited from AUM. AUM Shinrikyo changed its name to Aleph after members of the cult carried out sarin gas attacks on Tokyo subway trains, killing 12 people and harming thousands of others.
Police have reportedly received information that the female follower's sister died in a bathroom of a group facility four years ago after receiving "thermotherapy" in which she was immersed in scalding water with a temperature of nearly 50 degrees Celsius. Public safety authorities are working to uncover the group's activities.

"AUM victims urge gov't to act on compensation"

("Kyodo News," October 06, 2004)

Victims of the March 1995 sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway and other crimes committed by the AUM Shinrikyo cult urged the government Wednesday to act swiftly and comprehensively on the issue of compensation, which remains unresolved after nine years.
"This is not simply about money. In order for the victims to recover, there is a need to stabilize their lives, and to do this, compensation is necessary," said Shizue Takahashi, who represents a group of sarin gas victims and their families. Takahashi lost her husband, Kazumasa Takahashi, an assistant stationmaster at one of the subway stations.

"Police investigate Aum splinter group"

("Yomiuri Shimbun," September 25, 2004)

The Metropolitan Police Department's Public Safety Bureau on Saturday searched a house and other places related to a group whose members conduct the same training programs as the Aum Supreme Truth cult on suspicion of fatally assaulting a 36-year-old member earlier this month.
The Aum splinter group, named Keroyon Club, consists of about 30 members. Photographs of Chizuo Matsumoto, the 49-year-old former head of Aum, are displayed in the rooms they use for training, and their members conduct the same training programs conducted by the cult before Matsumoto was arrested.
In April 2000, the dead member's sister was found dead in the bathroom of an apartment in Nakano Ward, Tokyo, used by the group.
The police suspect she died during a ritual in which members have to lie in very hot water.
They said they would question the members of the group and investigate its activities.
The sites the police searched Saturday included the house of an acquaintance of the dead member, also a group member, in Nerima Ward, where her body was found on Sept. 11, and the apartment in Nakano Ward. Ten police officers entered the apartment carrying cardboard boxes at about 9 a.m.
According to the police, there were bruises on the dead woman's back, indicating she had been beaten before she died.
A 35-year-old male member who turned himself in to the police after the woman died said he had beaten her with a bamboo sword on the back as part of her training the day before she died.
The police said she might have died in her sleep after being beaten as part of her religious training.

"Dead Asahara disciple's sibling also died mysteriously"

("Mainichi," September 25, 2004)

Deadly religious rituals based on the lethal teachings of Tokyo subway gassing mastermind Shoko Asahara that led to the death of a devoted female follower earlier this month also claimed her sister's life four years ago, police said.
A follower of a group that split from AUM Shinrikyo when the doomsday cult elected to stray from the guru's teachings following his 1995 arrest for the lethal attack on Tokyo commuters has submitted to police admitting a female member died during a religious training session earlier this month.
The man said he had bashed the 36-year-old woman with a bamboo sword. They were going through a bizarre religious ritual passed on to the Keroyon Club through teachings Asahara had given to AUM.
Police were shocked to learn that the woman's younger sister also died during a bizarre AUM-inspired ritual four years ago, Jiji Press reports said.
There are strong suspicions that the younger sibling boiled to death in a steaming hot bath with waters topping 50 degrees Celsius, another practice instigated by Asahara.
Asahara is currently on Death Row for masterminding the March 20, 1995 gas attack on the Tokyo subway system that killed 12 and left thousands more injured.
When Asahara was arrested, mainstream AUM Shinrikyo followers turned their attention to worshipping his daughter. Some devotees, however, formed the Keroyon Club and continued to practice the guru's teachings with fatal results.
The man who gave himself up to the police admitting to bashing the female follower with a bamboo sword said that she had originally died in a Nakano-ku apartment, then been carried to another home in Nerima-ku, according to Jiji Press reports.
Public Safety Commission officials fear much about the Keroyon Club's activities and continue to investigate the cult with caution.

"Asahara worshipper dies under bizarre circumstances"

("Mainichi," September 23, 2004)

A Tokyo woman who maintained her fervent belief in Shoko Asahara even after it was revealed the guru had brought about the lethal 1995 Tokyo subway gassing has died under mysterious circumstances, police and public safety officials said Thursday.
The 43-year-old woman whose name is being withheld was an instrumental figure in the AUM Shinrikyo splinter group that continued to worship Asahara even after the guru's arrest and subsequent conviction.
Asahara is currently on Death Row for ordered the deadly March 20 1995 gas attack that killed 12 and made thousands more ill.
Police said a follower of the AUM splinter group called for an ambulance early on the morning of Sept. 11, saying that her friend had "gone cold."
Paramedics rushed to the scene and found the Asahara follower's body. She appeared to have been dead for some hours.
Public safety officials ordered an autopsy to try and determine the cause and timing of the woman's death, but the probe failed to come up with any conclusive reason. There were no signs of external injury on the woman's body.
The woman had been a member of the Keroyon Club. Public Safety Commission officers said the club was formed by several former members of AUM Shinrikyo who opposed cult leaders' intentions to install Asahara's daughter as the head of their movement following the gassing mastermind's arrest in May 1995.
Keroyon Club members, of whom there were several dozen, continued to profess a belief in the teachings of Asahara, carrying out the same types of rituals the guru had presided over when he headed the cult.

"Prosecutors drop police shooting case against 4 linked to AUM"

("Kyodo," September 17, 2004)

Prosecutors decided Friday not to indict four men linked to the AUM Shinrikyo cult over the 1995 shooting of the National Police Agency chief due to a lack of evidence.
The four, including former police officer Toshiyuki Kosugi, 39, were arrested in early July but were later released.
The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office said it decided not to indict them because it had doubts about the credibility of confessions by Kosugi, who changed his statements after arrest.
"We have continued investigations to catch the suspects and uncover the truth. It is regrettable that investigators could not collect enough evidence for the prosecutors to request a trial," said Seishi Suei, public security head at the Metropolitan Police Department.
The prosecutors and police had continued questioning the four on a voluntary basis after their release, but apparently did not find any substantiating evidence.
The three others are Tetsuya Uemura, 49, Mitsuo Sunaoshi, 37, and Koichi Ishikawa, 35. Ishikawa was arrested over an explosion at a religious scholar's house.
The NPA commissioner general at the time, Takaji Kunimatsu, was shot and severely wounded in front of his home in Tokyo's Arakawa Ward on March 30, 1995, eight days after the police launched raids on AUM following the cult's fatal sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway.
The police arrested the four July 7 after gunpowder found on a coat belonging to Kosugi matched that from a bullet in the shooting. Kosugi originally told investigators he had lent his coat to a man believed to be the shooter.
However, Kosugi changed his statement after being arrested to say he was the one who shot Kunimatsu, stirring doubts about his previous remarks.
The prosecutors released the four July 28 when their legal detention period expired.
In 1996, Kosugi confessed to being the shooter, but prosecutors doubted his credibility and deferred indictment.

"AUM's Nakagawa apologizes to son of murder victim"

("Kyodo News," September 13, 2004)

A former senior member of the AUM Shinrikyo cult, who is appealing a death sentence for his role in 11 cases including the confinement and death of a notary clerk, apologized to the clerk's son Monday.
"I am sorry for destroying your treasured family," Tomomasa Nakagawa, 41, was quoted as saying by Minoru Kariya, 44, who visited the former senior cult member at the Tokyo Detention House.
Kariya is the son of Kiyoshi Kariya, then 68, who was abducted and confined by AUM in 1995. During the confinement, he was given anesthesia, which led to his death from heart failure.
In October last year, the Tokyo District Court sentenced Nakagawa to death for his role in the killings of 25 people in cases including the sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway and in Nagano Prefecture, and the abduction and confinement of the elder Kariya.
AUM abducted Kariya, the chief clerk at the Meguro Public Notary Office, on Feb. 28, 1995, on a Tokyo street in order to question him about the whereabouts of his sister, who wanted to leave the cult. After he died, his body was burned in a microwave heating device.
Monday's meeting marked the second time Minoru Kariya has visited AUM defendants who have been jailed over the death of his father, following a meeting with Yoshihiro Inoue.
Nakagawa has appealed the death sentence to the Tokyo High Court, while Inoue, 34, has appealed his death sentence to the Supreme Court.
In principle, Nakagawa is not allowed to meet with anyone except his lawyer, but after learning that Kariya wanted to speak to him, he asked authorities for an exception.
According to Kariya, Nakagawa had his eyes downcast throughout the meeting and when asked about how Kiyoshi Kariya died, Nakagawa related how he administered the anesthetic drug, went away, and when he returned, the man was dead.
Kariya quoted Nakagawa as saying, "Moving away (from Kariya) was careless of me, and I should not have done that." Nakagawa repeatedly bowed his head, according to Kariya.
"I was irked at the way people's lives were disregarded, but I decided to put precedence (on efforts) to drawing out the truth (from them) and just let out my emotions later on," he said.
Kariya said he intends to continue meeting AUM members in detention.
AUM renamed itself Aleph in 2000.

"Asahara trial too quick, says man wrongly suspected in attack"

("Kyodo," September 11, 2004)

Yoshiyuki Kono, who was falsely described as a suspect by police after the 1994 sarin gas attack by the AUM Shinrikyo cult in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, said Saturday he believes the eight years a court spent trying AUM founder Shoko Asahara before sentencing him to death in February was too short.
"Considering the large scale of indictments against him, the eight years seems to be very quick," Kono said at a public forum with Yoshihiro Yasuda, former chief defense lawyer for Asahara, in Tokyo.
Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, was sentenced to death on Feb. 27 by the Tokyo District Court over all 13 charges against him, including the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system.
"The mass media attacked the defense team for Mr. Asahara, saying it intentionally delayed the trial, but I think it is natural for the lawyers to check the details of the indictments," Kono said. "The media and society as a whole had already found Mr. Asahara guilty before the judges made their ruling."
He was apparently criticizing impatience among Japanese toward those reported and indicted as perpetrators of heinous crimes.
"The first trial for Mr. Asahara just ended, and he has appealed the ruling. What can we say at this stage?" he added.
Kono was the first to report the gassing in Matsumoto. Police believed he was a suspect because chemicals were found at his home, and he was harassed by news media. He was hospitalized for about a month due to the gassing, and his wife remains in a coma.
After going through bitter experiences with the police and media, Kono became one of three members of the Public Safety Commission in 2002 monitoring Nagano prefectural police.
On the media reports against him made after the Matsumoto gassing, Kono said, "The media falsely branded me as the prime suspect based only on information leaked by the investigators, but they still haven't corrected their style of reporting."
"If manufacturers make defective products, they must exhaustively check the process and hand down harsh lessons so they will not repeat it. But the media do not show such a stance, so young reporters have repeated the same failures as their older coworkers," he said.
Referring to relief measures for crime victims and their bereaved families, Kono said, "It is the responsibility of the central government to prevent crimes. In that sense, I believe the government should establish a relief system for the victims, under which it disburses support money from public funds."
Yasuda, a well-known anti-death penalty campaigner, shared the view with Kono, saying society as a whole should face crimes and that the relief for the victims is a matter of social security.
AUM renamed itself Aleph in January 2000 in an effort to distance itself from its criminal image, but it remains under surveillance by the Justice Ministry's Public Security Intelligence Agency.

"DNA test on coin links ex-AUM member to shooting of NPA chief"

("Kyodo," September 06, 2004)

Police have detected DNA of a former member of the AUM Shinrikyo cult from a coin found at the site of the 1995 shooting of the then National Police Agency chief, police officials said Monday.
The former cult member submitted voluntarily to Metropolitan Police Department interrogation Saturday and Sunday. He denied any involvement in the shooting and no breakthroughs are expected in the investigation into the unprecedented incident, they said.
The coin was a South Korean 10-won coin. The MPD conducted DNA testing and found DNA from sweat and grime collected from the coin matched with that of the man's nails.
"I didn't go to the crime site," the man, 33, was quoted by police as saying. "I never knew of such a coin."
The former cult member lives in Yokohama and used to belong to AUM's "construction ministry," the police officials said. He was also one of the planners of an AUM-organized tour to Russia to experience shooting of guns.
The police arrested four other men, including a former police officer and a former senior AUM member, in July for alleged involvement in the shooting. But later in the month prosecutors had to release them due to a lack of credible evidence.
The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office has continued investigations related to the four since their release but is believed unlikely to indict them.
The former cult member in question initially refused to cooperate with the DNA analysis. The police then obtained warrants from a court to force him to provide nail samples.
Former NPA Commissioner General Takaji Kunimatsu was shot and severely wounded in front of his home in Tokyo's Arakawa Ward on March 30, 1995, eight days after the police launched raids on AUM following the fatal sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway system.

"College defends rejection of Asahara's daughter"

by Yumi Wijers-Hasegawa ("Japan Times," September 02, 2004)

Wako University told the Tokyo District Court on Wednesday that it denied enrollment to a daughter of Aum Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara earlier this year not because of who she is but because it believed she still had strong ties to the cult.
In a written statement submitted to the court, the university said the 21-year-old third daughter of Asahara might have faced harassment on campus, but the school "would not be able to fulfill our responsibility to protect her and to maintain an appropriate learning environment for the other students."
The woman had been considered a successor to Asahara during Aum's heyday, before he and several other key cultists were sentenced to hang or handed long prison terms for various crimes, including the 1995 sarin attack on Tokyo's subway system.
The four-year private liberal arts college in Machida, western Tokyo, accepted the woman's enrollment in February after she passed the entrance exam.
But it reversed its decision after learning who she was after she submitted enrollment documents.
The woman then sued the university.
When the case came to light last March, Wako University President Osamu Mihashi said she was unwelcome because her presence on campus might deprive other students of the opportunity to study in a calm environment.
Asahara, 49, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, was sentenced to death in February by the Tokyo District Court for his role in masterminding Aum's crimes.
Since 2003, the woman has been rejected from three universities, including Bunkyo University in Shinagawa Ward, Tokyo, after passing entrance exam requirements.

"Aum member, man arrested on suspicion of drug fraud"

("Yomiuri Shimbun," August 16, 2004)

A member of the Aum Supreme Truth cult and another man were rearrested Monday on suspicion of fraud for selling a product that contained steroids without a permit, police said.
Takashi Inoue, the 36-year-old head of the cult's center in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, and Kiyoshi Nakano, 37, a business owner of Tachikawa, also in Tokyo, were held and indicted earlier on suspicion of violating the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law.
This is the first time the police have charged somebody with fraud after arresting them on suspicion of violating this law.
According to the Metropolitan Police Department, the two men sold products they called Togen cream, advertising it as steroid-free medicine to help heal atopic dermatitis and other skin problems. The men are suspected of swindling nine people out of 185,000 yen for a year from March 2003.
The two suspects repeatedly lied to customers, telling them that the product was entirely made from peaches and could be used on babies, the police said.
The MPD's Consumer and Environmental Protection Division arrested them on suspicion of fraud, saying the practice was deceptive and the two could possibly face more severe penalties on fraud charges than those for violating the law. The MPD said the men might have sold at least 5,700 units between February 2003 and April this year, netting them 37 million yen, of which 9 million yen was believed to have been donated to the cult.

"Prosecutors mishandled NPA shooting"

("Yomiuri Shimbun," July 29, 2004)

The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office's release Wednesday of three men suspected of involvement in the 1995 shooting of the then National Policy Agency chief demonstrates the dangers inherent in relying too heavily on confessions by suspects, and likely will lead to criticism of the police' handling of the case, observers said.
Test results of particles found on a coat believed to have been worn by the shooter and new testimony by one suspect failed to provide sufficient evidence for prosecutors to identify the perpetrator who shot Takaji Kunimatsu.
Consequently, the prosecutors Wednesday released three former Aum Supreme Truth cult members who had been arrested July 7 on suspicion of attempted murder.
Inconsistencies in the confession of Toshiyuki Kosugi, 39, a former police officer of the Metropolitan Police Department, threw the investigators and led them on a wild goose chase.
Prosecutors believed the shooting was organized and carried out by cult members, but had to release the suspects due to lack of evidence.
Some prosecutors criticized police investigations for placing too much weight on Kosugi's unsubstantiated confession.
Since spring 2002, when Kosugi was summoned for voluntary questioning by investigators of the special investigative headquarters of the Minami-Senju Police Station, Kosugi said he had been asked to take a coat to the scene of the shooting on the morning of the day the attack took place.
Kosugi also said he went to the scene with a man who appeared to be Satoru Hashimoto, 37, who was sitting in a car, and gave him the coat.
Hashimoto has filed an appeal with the Supreme Court against the death sentence he received for the killing of a lawyer and his family.
"The man got out of the car near the crime scene, but I was dozing in the car," Kosugi said.
When he confessed in 1996 to shooting Kunimatsu, Kosugi said he wore a half black leather coat on the morning of the shooting. But in his new confession, he said he was wearing a khaki coat.
He also said the coat he lent to the man was a dark-gray trench coat.
In 1996, investigators found small holes on the hem of a trench coat voluntarily submitted by Kosugi.
In April last year, the coat was examined at a synchrotron orbital radiation facility in Mikazukicho, Hyogo Prefecture, which revealed that particle elements around the holes matched particles found on the wall of a condominium building near the scene.
The investigators concluded that the coat's particles were not inconsistent with some bullets used in the shooting.
Based on this evidence, the investigative headquarters decided to arrest Kosugi, and two former senior cult members - Tetsuya Uemura, 49, and Mitsuo Sunaoshi, 36 - on suspicion of attempted murder. Uemura's former surname was Kibe.
"Provided Kosugi affirmed the man he had lent the coat to was Hashimoto, we would be able to identify him as having been the shooter," a senior police officer said.
But on the morning of the day the shooting took place, there was no witness information to corroborate the car Kosugi said he had been in.
Kosugi also could not definitely say the man in question was Hashimoto.
With the exception of the fact that he had left a coat in a laundry near a Metropolitan Police Department dormitory in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, the remainder of Kosugi's confession could not be substantiated.
About two weeks after his arrest, Kosugi made several startling confessions, saying he might have shot Kunimatsu, that he was given a gun by an unknown male near the scene and returned it to the man after shooting Kunimatsu, and that he might not have lent the coat to the man.
The physical evidence the special investigative headquarters obtained from the examination of the particles raised the possibility of a man wearing the coat at the scene, but the evidence was not enough to positively identify the perpetrator.
Wednesday's release of the three suspects, and putting criminal charges against them on hold, shows that the investigation into the attempted murder has hit a brick wall more than nine years after the shooting.
Deputy public prosecutor Haruo Kasama said with the particles on Kosugi's coat as new evidence, suspicions that the cult had been involved in the case grew.
"That's why we decided to arrest them. The arrests made some headway toward solving the case," Kasama said.
But with the exception of these fragments of evidence, prosecutors relied mainly on Kosugi's confession to make their case.
Some prosecution officers believed the suspects could not be indicted when they were arrested because nobody knew who wore the coat at the time of the shooting.
When the arrests were made, prosecutors took the unusual step of stressing the arrests and indictments were two different matters, as the arrests were approved without the possibility of indictment.
They also said the arrests had been approved because there were no grounds to oppose making the arrests.
The crux of the matter was whether prosecutors could identify the perpetrator during investigations made after the arrests. Kosugi's confession that named Hashimoto as the person who pulled the trigger was unsubstantiated by other evidence.
Furthermore, with inconsistencies in Kosugi's confession, senior prosecutors were unable to alleviate their initial anxiety about the arrests.

"Japan Subway Gassing Sentences Upheld"

(AP, July 27, 2004)

A Japanese court on Wednesday upheld the death sentences of two former cult members convicted of spraying nerve gas in the deadly 1995 attack on the Tokyo subways.
The Tokyo High Court rejected the appeals of Toru Toyoda, 36, and Kenichi Hirose, 40, who were sentenced to death by hanging by a lower court in 2000, court spokesman Sadakazu Takagi said.
The two were among five Aum Shinrikyo members who released sarin gas on subway trains on March 21, 1995, killing 12 people and injuring thousands.
The high court also upheld the Tokyo District Court ruling of life imprisonment for Shigeo Sugimoto, 45, who drove the getaway car for a third attacker.
A total of 13 former cultists have been sentenced to death for the subway gassing, including founder Shoko Asahara, who was sentenced to hang in February for masterminding the assault and about a dozen other cult crimes.
None of those convicted has been executed yet.
The cult has changed its name to Aleph and says it's now harmless. But Japan's intelligence agency says the group uses computer and yoga businesses to expand its membership, remains faithful to Asahara's violent teachings and is still a threat to society.
Though the group's membership has shrunk to nearly one-tenth of its peak, in Japan it still has 1,650 members - 650 live-in followers and 1,000 others who practice at home. The cult has another 300 followers in Russia.

"NPA chief shooting suspects to be released"

("Kyodo News," July 27, 2004)

Prosecutors have decided to release three people with links to the AUM Shinrikyo cult, who were arrested earlier this month over the 1995 shooting of then National Police Agency chief Takaji Kunimatsu, due to lack of credible evidence, investigative sources said Monday.
The three are to be set free Wednesday, the time limit for their detention.
The three include Toshiyuki Kosugi, 39, a former police officer, the sources said.
They were arrested July 7, together with another suspect, on suspicion of being involved in the attack on Kunimatsu, who was shot and severely wounded in front of his home in Tokyo's Arakawa Ward on March 30, 1995, eight days after the police launched raids on AUM following the fatal sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway system.
Kosugi originally told investigators that he had cooperated with the actual shooter, but a few days later changed his statement to say that he himself tried to kill Kunimatsu, stirring doubts over the credibility of his remarks, the sources said.
Moreover, two former senior AUM members, who police believe were the actual shooter and the commander of the operation, have denied their involvement in the attack, they said.
The prosecutors, meanwhile, are still considering if it is possible to indict another suspect, Koichi Ishikawa, they said.
Ishikawa, 35, was arrested over an explosion at a religious scholar's house.

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