Fugitive’s harborer faces two years

by Minoru Matsutani

Staff Writer

Former Aum Shinrikyo member Akemi Saito pleaded guilty in court Tuesday to harboring fugitive cultist Makoto Hirata for 14 years, while prosecutors demanded a two-year jail term.

“Because of (Saito’s) actions, the police were unable to arrest Hirata for many years. The defendant harbored Hirata out of her emotions toward him and disregarded the feelings of the victims” of crimes Hirata participated in, one prosecutor told the Tokyo District Court.

Saito’s lawyers asked for a suspend sentence because she has expressed remorse. A verdict will be handed down March 27.

Saito, 49, was indicted for harboring Hirata for nearly 17 years despite knowing he was wanted in connection with a 1995 kidnap-murder. Hirata turned himself in to Tokyo police on New Year’s Eve, while Saito surrendered to police in the capital 10 days later.

“I knew Hirata was one of the culprits but I wanted to protect the person I loved,” Saito told the court as she entered her guilty plea.

“The first crime I have to make amends for is becoming an Aum Shinrikyo member, devoting my labor and fortune to it, and helping it commit heinous crimes,” she said.

“When I heard (Aum had committed the 1995 sarin attack on the Tokyo subway and other crimes) my body froze with fear.”

According to the indictment, Saito fled with Hirata to Sendai in May 1995 after police raided Aum’s facilities in response to the Tokyo subway attack that March.

In court Tuesday, Saito testified that she was not aware at the time of Hirata’s involvement in any of his alleged criminal acts. But by the end of that year, Hirata admitted to her that he assisted two other cultists in a February 1995 kidnap and murder, although he was not in on the plot, Saito said.

Regarding an attack at a Tokyo condominium and the staged firebombing of the cult’s Tokyo headquarters in 1995, the other charge Hirata is accused of, Saito quoted him as saying he heard the blast but did not transport explosives or cause the explosion.