Breaking more than six months of silence, senior Aum Shinrikyo leader Tomomitsu Niimi expressed his continuous gratitude May 12 to cult founder Shoko Asahara for leading him along “the great path.”

In his 14th trial session before the Tokyo District Court, Niimi, 32, the cult’s former home affairs chief, entered a statement for the first time since October, explaining the philosophy of Buddhism and justifying Asahara’s teachings. “Buddhism is a great achievement, in which all people can be transferred into goodness. Karma eventually becomes a phenomenon,” Niimi read from a prepared statement when asked by Judge Toru Iwase to state his opinion. He then concluded his speech by thanking the guru and wishing that “the truth” be revealed one day.

After finishing his statement, Niimi, who appeared in court with his hair tied in a ponytail, went back to the dock and continued chanting to himself with eyes closed and occasionally stroking his chest. He was given an opportunity to speak because all three judges on the case were recently replaced in a personnel reshuffle. His statement followed the prosecutors’ summary of indictments, during when he looked frequently at the gallery and talked to his lawyers. His defense counsel said they had no comment at this point.

In the afternoon session, the defense lawyers cross-examined the cult’s one-time chief doctor, Ikuo Hayashi, who urged Niimi in tears to think on his own and free himself from Asahara’s influence. “We all know by now that Asahara is an impostor. Clinging onto him will solve nothing,” he said to Niimi.

Considered a central figure in a special cult squad believed in charge of shady activities, Niimi is indicted on 11 charges, including the subway gas attack and the slaying of anti-Aum lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto and the attorney’s family. He refused to enter a plea on eight cases and pleaded not guilty to three.

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