Senior Aum Shinrikyo figure Kiyohide Hayakawa, appearing Monday before the Tokyo District Court, denied the widely held belief that he was connected with the Russian mafia.

During cross-examination by his defense counsel, Hayakawa, 48, claimed he was so unaware of the Russian underworld that he once had to ask taxi drivers in Russia for basic information about the mafia to carry out an assignment for Aum founder Shoko Asahara.

Hayakawa was questioned about his role in Aum’s procurement of automatic rifles allegedly upon the guru’s orders. He also stands accused of taking part in mass murder.

Hayakawa testified that in 1993, Asahara told him about the cult’s plan to manufacture automatic rifles and ordered him to arrange a study tour in Russia for the late Hideo Murai, who headed Aum’s science and technology division.

Hayakawa flew to Russia soon afterward and took Murai to a Russian military university. While in Russia, Hayakawa received a phone call from Asahara, who ordered him to get an automatic rifle for Murai, he testified.

Hayakawa, who is alleged to have played a central role in the cult’s clandestine activities, especially its procurement of various Russian armaments, denied he had any underworld links. “If I had had such connections, acquiring rifles would have been easy,” Hayakawa said. Instead, “I wondered what to do,” he told the court.

“I had heard that cabs in front of hotels were connected with the mafia. So, I went around to different hotels and asked cab drivers in my poor Russian if they knew (about automatic rifles),” he said.

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