Aum Shinri-kyo and Related Controversies

"AUM employs shady real estate firm"

("Mainichi Shimbun", December 14, 1999)

Faced with public hostility to its presence in communities across the country, the AUM Shinrikyo religious cult turned to a real estate firm notorious for its tactics in obtaining land and buildings to help secure sites for its facilities and residences for its members, the Mainichi has learned.

Metropolitan Police Department officials say they have stepped up their monitoring of AUM's activities because they believe its members may try to obtain new sites for cult facilities in a similar fashion. Working through Higashiyama Shoji and businessmen with ties to the company, the cult was able to obtain at least six sites in the Tokyo metropolitan area without attracting the attention of local residents or government officials. Higashiyama Shoji, a real estate firm based in Tokyo's Sumida-ku, gained notoriety for the controversial tactics it uses to acquire the properties it wants. One such method involves having company staffers or specially hired individuals occupy the property of bankrupt companies or individuals. Higashiyama Shoji then demands exorbitant "evacuation fees" to vacate the premises and coerces the property's owner into allowing the real estate firm to rent the property to a third party.

According to police, the company used that particular tactic to obtain properties sought by AUM, which could then rent them. As neither the name of the cult nor those of its members were listed on any of the leases of the six Tokyo-area properties thus far identified as being occupied by AUM, cult members did not have to register their place of residence with local authorities.

In one case, a businessman affiliated with Higashiyama Shoji got the lease to a bankrupt auto factory in Ibaraki Prefecture on March 1, 1998, just three weeks after it had been obtained by an Adachi-ku, Tokyo-based creditor of the factory. Higashiyama Shoji subsequently sold the factory to an AUM member in April. The land on which the factory is located was also sold to the same cultist. In October that year, cult members began living in the factory, which AUM also uses as a printing facility. The acquisition of five other facilities, including a warehouse in Koshigaya, Saitama Prefecture, and the home of the eldest daughter of cult founder, Shoko Asahara, proceeded in a similar manner.

However, AUM has since left some of the properties it obtained through Higashiyama Shoji. In a related development, Mayor Osamu Koyama of Kita Mimaki, Nagano Prefecture, announced over the weekend that his village government will use a former AUM facility as a care home for the elderly. The village bought the facility from the cult for 110 million yen after reaching an out-of-court settlement in a suit that had demanded


"Japan Cult Leader To Be Released"

by Joji Sakurai (Associated Press, December 14, 1999)

TOKYO (AP) - A charismatic leader of the doomsday cult accused of a deadly subway gassing in Tokyo will likely try to revive the group after his release from prison, a leading expert on the cult said today.

Fumihiro Joyu, the top spokesman for Aum Shinri Kyo before his arrest on charges of trying to cover-up the group's activities, is scheduled to be set free on Dec. 29 after less than three years in jail.

The cult is anxiously awaiting his return as most of its leaders, including guru Shoko Asahara, are on trial in the 1995 subway nerve gas attack that killed 12 people, said Shoko Egawa, a journalist who has tracked Aum for almost a decade.

``The cult's current leadership is full of passive people,'' Egawa told reporters at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan. ``They are no doubt thinking `Joyu come back soon and take over

Japan is particularly apprehensive about Joyu's release because his articulate manner and matinee idol looks won him scores of fans among young women - even as Aum was suspected of mass-murder.

There has been little doubt Joyu was one of the masterminds behind the cult: He is a graduate of Japan's elite Waseda University and was an official at the country's space program before joining Aum.

The passage of legislation this month to rein in the cult's activities is believed to have been timed at least in part to pre-empt cult efforts to regroup after Joyu's release.

Despite such fears, Egawa believes there is little danger Aum will make a strong comeback any time soon.

She said it will take time for Joyu to adjust to life after prison. And she predicted some cult members may bristle at what she described as his ``cold-hearted'' style, citing his treatment of followers overseas.

``He cut all ties with Russian headquarters, with no consideration to followers in Russia,'' said Egawa. ``If he takes such a way again, more followers may not approve of his actions.''

And the new laws passed this month that allow the government to monitor and seize the assets of organizations that have committed mass-murder will make it harder than ever for Aum to regroup.

Egawa expressed the most concern about the next generation of Aum.

She said that Asahara's school-age children hold almost absolute authority within the cult and that his oldest daughter is showing a precocious lust for power.

``Asahara may never be set free, but his children are being trained to succeed him and they are likely to try to revive the cult,'' Egawa said


"Death sought for Aum suspect"

("Asahi Shimbun", December 11, 1999)

Tokyo district prosecutors on Friday demanded the death sentence for Yasuo Hayashi, a former senior member of the Aum Shinrikyo cult, for his part in the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system which left 12 dead and 5,000 injured. Hayashi, 41, is currently being held on charges of murder and attempted murder.

Prosecutors in their closing argument Friday said eight people died in a train car in which Hayashi released sarin gas. He played a ``willing, active'' role in the attack, they said, adding that he carried three bags of sarin-one bag more than the other suspects in the case carried. The fact that Hayashi was subsequently at large for 21 months caused ``fear and insecurity for all of society,'' the prosecutors said. The final arguments from the defense will be heard Feb. 28.

Prosecutors had already demanded the death penalty for three of the five people accused of carrying out the attack: Toru Toyoda, 31; Kenichi Hirose, 35; and Masato Yokoyama, 36. The death sentence was not sought for Ikuo Hayashi, 52, who turned himself in and cooperated with investigators. Instead, Hayashi was sentenced to life in prison. Prosecutors said the suspects acted on behalf of Aum leader Chizuo Matsumoto, and to earn possible promotion within the cult. They also said the suspects tried to evade responsibility by offering deliberately confusing testimony. The defense has argued that the suspects were coerced into the attack out of fear for Matsumoto.


"AUM vacates building in Tokyo's Suginami Ward"

(Kyodo News Service, December 10, 1999)

TOKYO, Dec. 10 (Kyodo) - Members of the AUM Shinrikyo cult on Friday vacated a building in Tokyo's Suginami Ward that had served as an AUM branch office since March 1996.

A lawyer living in the ward who successfully bid for the building when it was auctioned off in October took possession of it Friday.

According to public security authorities, no troubles had been reported between local residents and AUM members using the facility. Two rooms in the building were used as a library.

The pullout leaves the group without any facilities in the Tokyo metropolitan area, except for followers' residences. In September the group vacated a building in Tokyo's Adachi Ward that had served as the cult's headquarters and last month moved out of a facility in Toshima Ward.

Metropolitan Police Department officials said the group is vacating facilities before two newly enacted laws aimed at cracking down on the cult take effect.

The laws, which take effect Dec. 27, allow the monitoring of the cult's activities to allay public anxiety and offer assistance to victims of AUM-related crimes.

On Dec. 1, the cult admitted for the first time its culpability for a series of crimes, including the March 1995 sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system.


"Death sought for ex-AUM member over sarin attacks"

(Kyodo News Service, December 10, 1999)

TOKYO, Dec. 10 (Kyodo) - Prosecutors demanded the death sentence Friday for a former senior member of the AUM Shinrikyo cult for his role in the sarin gas attacks in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, in 1994 and on the Tokyo subway system in 1995.

The death penalty was sought for Yasuo Hayashi, 41, at the Tokyo District Court on charges of murder and attempted murder in connection with the two gassings, which claimed a total of 19 lives and injured more than 5,400, and on other charges.

Of the five people who are believed to have carried out the subway gassing, Hayashi became the fourth person for whom capital punishment was sought.

Concluding arguments by defense lawyers are scheduled for Feb. 28 next year.

Prosecutors claimed Hayashi played a leading role in the cult's indiscriminate terrorism. They alleged he was involved not only in the two sarin attacks but also in an effort to spread cyanide gas at Tokyo's Shinjuku Station in 1995, wiretapping and the building of a plant to manufacture sarin gas.

They also said he ''actively and independently'' implemented the ''Vajrayana'' dogma propounded by cult leader Shoko Asahara, which permits killings.

The teachings by Asahara are unrelated to the form of Buddhism sharing the same name and prevailing in Tibet, Bhutan and Mongolia.

Prosecutors also said that the accused committed crimes in order to win the trust of Asahara and to get promoted within the cult, and that he was completely committed to the dogma, brushing aside Hayashi's claim that he was forced to participate out of fear of reprisals by Asahara.

Prosecutors called the claim a ''shameless'' attempt to evade responsibility.

Hayashi, who was deputy head of the group's ''science and technology'' section, broke open nylon bags containing sarin nerve gas on five Tokyo subway trains with several other AUM members on March 20, 1995, they claimed.

The accused ''took the lead'' in the crime, as he pierced three nylon bags at least four times with an umbrella, prosecutors said, adding Hayashi ''certainly'' had a murderous intention because he was very knowledgeable about the toxicity of sarin from his involvement in the Matsumoto attack.

Hayashi alone is charged with murdering eight of the victims, according to the indictment.

He is also charged with abetting murder by helping to build a car to release sarin in a residential area of Matsumoto in June 1994, and with attempted murder for planting the device in Shinjuku Station. The device was found before it could do any harm.

The suspect has pleaded guilty to the subway gassing and the Shinjuku murder attempt and has apologized to the bereaved families of victims during court hearings.

However, Hayashi pleaded ''not guilty'' to the Matsumoto sarin attack, saying that although he helped with wiring work on the car used to spread the toxic gas, he did not know what the gas would be used for. Prosecutors, however, said Hayashi was aware of the lethality of the gas.

Hayashi was arrested Dec. 3, 1996, on Ishigaki Island in Okinawa after about 18 months on the run. He had been fleeing from investigators with a female AUM follower.

In the district court on Tuesday, prosecutors demanded death sentences for two other senior AUM members, Toru Toyoda, 31, and Kenichi Hirose, 35, who allegedly executed the Tokyo sarin attack with Hayashi.

Senior AUM member Masato Yokoyama, 36, was also given the death penalty at the Tokyo court in September, but he is appealing the ruling.

The fifth, Ikuo Hayashi, 52, a former doctor, was sentenced to life imprisonment as the prosecution demanded.

Asahara is on trial for his alleged role in at least 17 major crimes, including masterminding the sarin gas attacks and for ordering murders.

"AUM has potential to repeat terrorist acts"

(Kyodo News Service, December 8, 1999)

TOKYO, Dec. 8 (Kyodo) - The AUM Shinrikyo religious cult still has the potential to carry out terrorist acts and there are fears it could resort to cyber terrorism in the future, according to a police report released Wednesday.

The conclusion is contained in the report by the National Police Agency (NPA) that assesses the security situation during the past year and gives an outlook for the future.

It warns that senior AUM member and former spokesman Fumihiro Joyu, 36, is likely to play the ''core'' role in the cult after he is released from prison at the end of this year after a three-year prison term. AUM members have been uniting as the yearend release of Joyu approaches, the report said.

The NPA also warned of possible terrorist attacks against leaders and ministers from the Group of Eight (G-8) major powers when they meet in Okinawa, Miyazaki and Fukuoka prefectures next July.

The attacks could be carried out by terrorists from Japan, notably right-wing extremists, or other countries, the report said.

On Dec. 1, AUM for the first time admitted its culpability in a series of crimes, including the 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system which left 12 people dead and more than 5,000 injured. The cult apologized to victims of the attack and indicated a willingness to compensate them.

But the NPA appears to be skeptical over AUM's recent expressions of conciliation. The agency's report said an announcement by the cult in late September that it will suspend all its external activities ''is a measure aimed at obstructing the enactment of two bills for cracking down on AUM and at alleviating residents' activities'' against the cult.

AUM continues to have the potential for terrorism given its considerable number of followers with professional skills and knowledge, the report said. Many of these followers were arrested yet reportedly returned to the cult shortly after their release.

The NPA expects AUM to beef up sales and development of software products by its affiliated computer companies. ''There is a fear of possible cyber terrorism in the future,'' the police agency said.

The NPA intends to strengthen its operations against AUM's attempts to set up facilities in regional communities to ease the worries of local residents.

The report said the police will apply a new law aimed at monitoring the cult's activities in an appropriate manner. The measure applies to organizations which have committed ''indiscriminate mass murder during the past 10 years'' and allows police to inspect their facilities without warrants.

The legislation, along with a law aimed at rescuing victims of AUM-related crimes by facilitating the seizure of cult assets, cleared the Diet last Friday.


"Death demanded for AUM suspects"

("Mainichi Shimbun", December 8, 1999)

Two AUM Shinrikyo members face death and a third life imprisonment if the Tokyo District Court hands out the sentences prosecutors demanded Tuesday for the cultists' alleged roles in the deadly 1995 gassing of the Tokyo subway system. Toru Toyoda, 31, and Kenichi Hirose, 35, were members of AUM Shinrikyo squads that sprayed deadly sarin gas on Tokyo's Hibiya and Marunouchi subway lines on March 20, 1995. The sarin gas attacks, which the cult has recently admitted carrying out, killed 12 people and left thousands ill. Prosecutors called for life imprisonment for the third man, Shigeo Sugimoto, who was a driver for another member of the sarin attack squad. Both Toyoda and Hirose have already admitted their guilt.


"Death sentences sought for 2 Aum attackers"

("Asahi Shimbun", December 8, 1999)

Prosecutors on Tuesday requested death sentences for two former Aum Shinrikyo leaders accused of releasing nerve gas in Tokyo's subway system that killed 12 people and sickened thousands in 1995. A life sentence was urged for another former cultist accused of driving an Aum member to a subway station on the day of the attack. In their closing arguments at the Tokyo District Court, the public prosecutors said Toru Toyoda, 31, and Kenichi Hirose, 35, deserve to die because of their extreme responsibility and deep involvement in planning and executing the sarin attack during the morning rush hour on March 20, 1995. Shigeo Sugimoto, 40, who has admitted driving another cultist to a subway station for the attack, deserves to spend the rest of his life behind bars, the prosecutors said. The prosecutors said Sugimoto played a crucial role in the cult's plan, but his responsibility was lighter than that of Toyoda and Hirose. The defense will give its closing arguments on March 2. Prosecutors argued that Toyoda, Hirose and Sugimoto were eager to commit the crime to win the praise of Aum founder Chizuo Matsumoto. But Sugimoto, who has also been indicted for the slayings of two other Aum followers, admitted to the allegations and surrendered to police. Prosecutors explained that Sugimoto's surrender enabled police to start thoroughly investigating the sarin attack. Toyoda, Hirose and Sugimoto are among 14 Aum members who have been indicted on murder and attempted murder charges for the sarin attack. Matsumoto, 44, is currently standing trial on murder and attempted murder charges in connection with the Tokyo attack and a series of other crimes. Tokyo prosecutors have been been seeking death sentences or life imprisonment for those involved in the subway attack. Masato Yokoyama, 36, who was found guilty of releasing sarin on one of the subway cars, was sentenced to death. Yokoyama has appealed. Ikuo Hayashi, 52, another former cultist who dispersed the gas, was given a life sentence. Hayashi, a doctor who turned himself in to police and helped to implicate other Aum members, did not appeal.

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