Top court rejects ex-Aum member’s appeal against nine-year prison term


The Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by a former senior member of the Aum Shinrikyo cult, in a move that will finalize a nine-year prison sentence for his involvement in three criminal incidents.

In a decision dated Wednesday, the top court’s third petty bench upheld lower court rulings that found Makoto Hirata, 50, guilty of the abduction and confinement of a Tokyo notary clerk, as well as the bombing of a Tokyo condominium and firebombing of an Aum facility in 1995 on the eve of the cult’s sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system.

Hirata’s trial was the first of an Aum member determined by a panel of professional and lay judges.

His defense counsel argued Hirata had “no prior knowledge” of the abduction and bombing plans, and also said the nine-year sentence was too harsh compared with another former Aum member who was convicted of largely the same crimes but received a prison term of six years.

But the panel at the Tokyo District Court determined Hirata was aware of the plans.

The Tokyo High Court upheld the lower court’s decision, saying the sentence of the accomplice was handed down by a panel of only professional judges more than 15 years ago and it was “not unfair” to give Hirata a heavier sentence, which reflected the public’s views under the lay judge system implemented in 2009.

The 68-year-old notary clerk, Kiyoshi Kariya, died after being abducted and injected with an anesthetic by the group in February 1995.

The bombing of the Tokyo condominium and firebombing of the Aum facility occurred on the eve of the gas attack on the Tokyo subway on March 20, 1995, that killed 13 and left more than 6,000 people ill.

They were carried out to avoid looming police action against the cult, according to the district court’s ruling.

Hirata turned himself in to police on Dec. 31, 2011, after nearly 17 years on the run. Aum founder Shoko Asahara, 60, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, is on death row.

Aum Shinrikyo is known for having staged two sarin gas attacks, one on the Tokyo subway and the other in a residential area of Matsumoto in Nagano Prefecture on June 27, 1994, which killed eight people.