Asahara to be grilled over Hirata slaying role

Kyodo

Investigators are set to question Aum Shinrikyo guru Shoko Asahara over the role Makoto Hirata, a former member of the cult who turned himself in to Tokyo Metropolitan Police on Dec. 31 after 17 years on the run, played in the abduction and death of a Tokyo notary office clerk in 1995, sources said Monday.

Asahara, 56, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, is on death row for masterminding a series of heinous crimes. He is said to be suffering from a mental disorder and investigators are concerned he will not be able to answer their questions on the case.

Hirata, 46, was arrested Jan. 1 on suspicion of conspiring with Asahara and other Aum followers to abduct Kiyoshi Kariya in February 1995.

Hirata — who is also accused of conspiring to place the 68-year-old clerk in confinement and inject him with a chemical that is believed to have caused his death on March 1, 1995 — had been on the wanted list since May the same year. Kariya had a sister who had been in hiding as she tried to leave the cult.

Police have questioned former Aum member Yoshihiro Inoue, 42, who is also on death row, and some other convicted former members over Hirata’s role in the kidnapping. They said Hirata, who served as a guard for Asahara, knew about the abduction plan in advance, sources said.

Asahara is believed to have ordered Inoue to carry out the abduction.

Hirata was quoted by sources as telling police that Inoue merely instructed him to drive a car at the time of the abduction. He has told his lawyer, Taro Takimoto, that he had no knowledge of the plan to kidnap Kariya and believed that the Aum members would retrieve the clerk’s sister.

Asahara, who was sentenced to death in 2004 for murdering a total of 27 people in 13 criminal cases, has exhibited numerous instances of odd behavior in the courtroom. In 2005, however, court-appointed psychiatrists found him mentally competent to stand trial.