It was shortly after NHK’s “Kohaku Utagassen” (“Red and White Singing Competition”) program had ended and just minutes before the new year when Makoto Hirata appeared in front of Marunouchi Police Station on Saturday.
The tall, slender man with long hair simply said: “I came to turn myself in.”
The Tokyo policeman he was addressing recognized him immediately as the man whose face had adorned wanted posters for over a decade, and stood there speechless with surprise, police said.
The Aum fugitive’s arrest now has experts wondering why Hirata decided to turn himself in after more than 16 years on the run. Some of them think he could be trying to prevent the execution of Aum guru Shoko Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto.
“He may be trying to protect Asahara,” said a former Metropolitan Police Department official. He said that ever since the finalization in December of the death penalty for former Aum executive Seiichi Endo brought the Aum trials to an end, public attention has shifted to when Asahara and Aum’s 12 other executive members will be executed.
Once Hirata has been indicted, another Aum trial will begin and the executions may be delayed, the former official said.
But Hirata’s motives are still unclear. He reportedly told his lawyer that the guru deserves the death sentence and also renounced his belief in Aum Shinrikyo.
Journalist Shoko Egawa warned that it is one thing to lose religion, but another to lose affection. “We should examine the case with caution,” she said.
Despite the vast police network being used to find him and the ¥5 million bounty on his head, Hirata managed to elude capture. His last sighting was in Nagoya in August 1997. He was so scarce he didn’t even show up for his mother’s funeral in July.
When he showed up at the police station, he did not appear to have undergone plastic surgery or steps to file off his fingerprints.
“Unless he was supported by somebody, either an individual or group, it is inconceivable that he could have survived,” said Egawa.