Asahara only feigning mental illness: Hirata

Kyodo

A former senior member of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult arrested last week said babbling founder Shoko Asahara, who is thought to have a mental disorder, is only acting, a lawyer who spoke with him said Saturday.

“I think he’s pretending to be ill,” 46-year-old Makoto Hirata, who turned himself in to Tokyo police on Dec. 31, was quoted as saying by lawyer Taro Takimoto. “He’s a man who does that kind of thing,” Hirata was quoted as saying.

Hirata served as Asahara’s bodyguard in the cult.

Since his arrest in May 1995 and the start of his trial in April 1996, Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, has exhibited odd behavior in the courtroom ranging from mere silence to mumbling and babbling.

But court-appointed psychiatrists in 2005 found him mentally competent to stand trial.

The cult was involved in the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system and other crimes, including murders and abductions.

Meanwhile, Hirata denied involvement in the shooting in 1995 of Takaji Kunimatsu, then chief of the National Policy Agency, Takimoto said.

Since Hirata had participated in shooting competitions before joining Aum, police thought he may have been involved in the shooting.

But Hirata told Takimoto he “absolutely knows nothing and had not been told anything” about the incident.

Takimoto, who has supported victims of the cult and met with Hirata at his request, said Hirata seemed despondent when the lawyer told him police released four recent photos of him to gather information on his life as a fugitive for nearly 17 years.

Hirata also told Takimoto that he eventually cut up a photo showing himself and Asahara together that he had kept until five years ago.

“I had a hard time throwing it away. But, after my father’s death and Matsumoto’s death penalty was finalized, I got rid of it because I had the photo facedown and cut it into pieces with scissors,” Takimoto quoted Hirata as saying.

Investigative sources also said Saturday that they are collecting footage from security cameras in the Nara region to identify where Hirata stayed before surrendering.

On the day he turned himself in, Hirata is believed to have traveled by bullet train from Shin-Osaka Station in Osaka to Shinagawa Station in Tokyo, based on evidence including fingerprints on tickets and security camera footage, according to investigative sources.

After turning himself in, Hirata told police that he never left Japan and that he had Internet access while on the lam. He said he had learned of his father’s May 2006 death via a lawyer’s blog. Investigators believe Hirata had access to a personal computer while on the run.

Hirata, who had been on the wanted list since May 1995, is suspected of conspiring with Asahara and other followers to abduct notary clerk Kiyoshi Kariya in February of that year. Kariya had a sister who went into hiding after leaving the cult.

Hirata is also charged with conspiring to place Kariya in confinement and injecting him with a chemical that caused his death on March 1, 1995.