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Aum victim Kariya’s son not seeking vengeance for death

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

He says he isn’t seeking vengeance on those who tortured and killed his father. Nor does he intend to hate them forever. The only thing Minoru Kariya wants is the simple truth about how exactly his father, Kiyoshi, died nearly 20 years ago.

That would seem to be a modest request, coming from a man whose father was violently abducted and then drugged into unconsciousness. Adding to the indignity, after the Tokyo notary died his remains were reduced to ashes in a microwave-powered incinerator.

This crime has come to be known as the “Kariya Incident” and takes its place among Aum Shinrikyo’s long list of transgressions. Experts say it is emblematic of the doomsday cult’s savagery.

Kiyoshi Kariya’s wealthy sister had fled Aum because it was pressing for her to sell her properties, and the cultists thought he knew where she was.

The younger, soft-spoken Kariya said he wished no severe punishment for Makoto Hirata, a former cult fugitive who played a role in the 1995 kidnapping. Hirata was sentenced to nine years Friday over the kidnapping and other crimes. Kariya says he even sympathizes with Hirata.

“After his 17 years on the run, I assume Hirata suffered a lot. The pain he must have felt all those years might in a way be similar to that of (our) family,” Kariya said in the Tokyo District Court as Hirata’s trial kicked off Jan. 16. “My only wish is for him to tell the truth.”

The truth he wants is how his father died and whether his death really was, as determined by past court verdicts, a coincidental result of a forced anesthetization. Kariya says he has yet to accept that there was no premeditated malice in the suffering his father endured. Hence his decision to attend the trial under the relatively new system that allows crime victims to question defendants directly.

Under the system, introduced in 2008, victims of vicious crimes such as murder and rape, and their relatives, cannot only question defendants and witnesses, but state their opinions in court as well. The Hirata trial was the first in which an Aum victim has used it.

“I know much has already been revealed about the case, but I’m counting on the slim possibility something new will be uncovered during the trial,” he told the court that opening day.

But as the trial drew to a close, Kariya said he still feels a world away from the truth. He confided during one of his news conferences during the trial that he was disappointed by what he called Hirata’s evasive testimony, and that he felt torn by witnesses’ conflicting accounts.

Because Hirata only participated in the kidnapping and not what happened after, the trial didn’t closely examine the circumstances surrounding the elder Kariya’s death. Hirata testified that he had no idea how the man died. When pressed with hard questions from prosecutors, he turned talkative in an apparent attempt at obfuscation, Kariya said.

Also during the trial, the ringleader of the kidnapping gave testimony that, if given much earlier, could have prompted the courts to decide the elder Kariya was indeed murdered.

Yoshihiro Inoue, the former intelligence chief of the doomsday cult, said during his court appearance last month that Tomomasa Nakagawa, another key Aum member, once told him that he wanted to test his new, possibly lethal, drug on the barely conscious Kariya to determine its effect. The nature of this drug is not clear.

The testimony underscores what Inoue confessed in a letter he sent to Kariya’s family in 2011, after his death sentence was finalized. Nakagawa, for his part, fiercely denied the accusation during his testimony at the Hirata trial, and he called Inoue a liar.

“I honestly don’t know which one to believe,” Kariya said afterward.

According to Kariya’s lawyer, Yoshiro Ito, it’s “very likely” that the notary’s death could have been considered murder if Inoue had offered his recollection of Nakagawa’s desire to use their victim as a test subject much earlier.

“I’m very angry that it took (Inoue) so long to come forward with that testimony,” Kariya said.

When Hirata finished testifying, Kariya begrudgingly acknowledged that despite his hopes, nothing came out of the trial to shed new light on his father’s death. But there was a subtle detail — as graphic and heart-rendering as it was — that he said made him feel it was worth attending the two-month trial.

After failing to shake off his kidnappers, Kiyoshi cried out panic-stricken, but also somehow resigned, for help three times, Nakagawa testified.

“The image of him screaming like this struck me as so real and terrifying,” Kariya said. “But I’m glad I was able to hear such accounts firsthand. So it wasn’t entirely meaningless I attended this trial.”