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Explosives charges fall flat on lack of evidence

Cultist Kikuchi gets five years

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

The Tokyo District Court on Monday handed former Aum Shinrikyo fugitive Naoko Kikuchi a five-year prison term for attempted murder in the 1995 Tokyo City Hall bombing but stopped short of finding her guilty on explosives charges due to lack of evidence.

The defendant “must have had some knowledge” of what she was doing while serving as an accomplice in the high-profile parcel bomb incident at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building, the ruling said.

Kikuchi, 42, was on trial for attempted murder and violating the Explosives Control Act. But the district court didn’t acknowledge her full guilt on grounds that, given the circumstances, she was probably unaware of exactly what kinds of unlawful activities she was involved in — one of which included the use of bombs. Citing ignorance, she pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Prosecutors had demanded a seven-year term. Kikuchi’s lawyers said they intend to appeal. As a devout member of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult, which rocketed to global fame when it attacked the Tokyo subway system with the nerve gas sarin in March 1995, killing 13 people and injuring thousands, Kikuchi was accused of willfully helping her Aum superiors craft and send a parcel bomb to then-Tokyo Gov. Yukio Aoshima.

The bombing severely maimed his secretary, Masaaki Utsumi, who lost all the digits on his left hand when he opened the package.

The bombing was used as a decoy to distract the police, who were trying to track down cult guru Shoko Asahara, who went into hiding after the Tokyo subway attack three months earlier.

“The bombing was . . . unforgivable in that it was orchestrated as a way to prevent the arrest of Asahara and ensure the survival of the cult,” said the presiding judge, Shinji Sugiyama, describing it as the “most malicious type of attempted murder.”

Kikuchi, on orders from her superiors, including Yoshihiro Inoue and Tomomasa Nakagawa, transported the chemicals used to make the bomb from an Aum facility in Yamanashi Prefecture to one in Tokyo on five different occasions so they could assemble it. Her role as a chemical courier “greatly facilitated efforts by her superiors to derail police investigations,” Sugiyama added.

Monday’s verdict brought Kikuchi’s two-month trial to an end and marked the second time an Aum cultist has been tried under the lay judge system introduced in 2009.

During the trial, some Aum members on death-row appeared in court to testify, among them Inoue and Nakagawa.

In testimony that was judged “highly trustworthy” by the court on Monday, Inoue recalled expressing gratitude to Kikuchi for her “crucial” contribution to their possibly murderous mystery plot.

“I’ll do my best,” Kikuchi happily replied in a remark the court deemed suggestive of her knowledge of the plot’s goal.

“I would like her to take the gravity of this ruling very seriously and do her best to atone for her crime,” wrote Utsumi, the former secretary, in a statement issued after the ruling.