Defense lawyers for Aum Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara accused a former senior cultist during cross-examination July 4 of playing down his involvement in the cult’s dubious activities.

Kazuaki Okazaki 36, who has confessed to taking part in the November 1989 murders of lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto and his family, was appearing before the Tokyo District Court as a prosecution witness in Asahara’s murder trial. July 4 was his third day of cross-examination by the cult leader’s lawyers.

During the morning session, the defense team asked Okazaki for details on how he received Asahara’s order to scout out the office building of the Mainichi Shimbun on two occasions around October 1989. The newspaper’s Sunday Mainichi magazine had started running a series of articles critical of the cult earlier that month.

The witness said that in mid-October of that year, Asahara ordered Okazaki and another cultist, 47-year-old Kiyohide Hayakawa, to determine whether a truck loaded with explosives could be driven into the building’s basement, which housed the paper’s printers. The two determined that it would be impossible to enter the basement without being noticed, prompting Asahara to then order the cultists to study the possibility of taking a bomb directly into the magazine’s newsroom, he said.

The lawyers were apparently trying to prove that Okazaki was deeply involved in plans for the bombings, neither of which were carried out. They asked whether Okazaki actively tried to find out where the paper’s printers were located and if he abandoned plans to bomb the building on his own judgment.

At one point in the cross-examination, one of Asahara’s lawyers asked harshly, “Aren’t you trying to minimize your role (in the plans)?” Okazaki replied that he could not answer unless the question was more specific.

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