A former senior figure of Aum Shinrikyo on Friday contradicted prosecutors’ claim that the religious sect’s legal trouble with residents of Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, motivated cult leader Shoko Asahara to order the June 1994 Matsumoto gassing.

Yoshinobu Aoyama, 38, who served as the cult’s lawyer, appeared in the murder trial of Asahara as a prosecution witness. Continuing on from Thursday, Asahara’s defense counsel cross-examined Aoyama on the cult’s purchase and lease of land in Matsumoto and its subsequent trouble with locals opposed to construction of a cult facility there.

A defense lawyer cited parts of Asahara’s speech at the facility’s opening ceremony in December 1992, in which Asahara told his disciples, “social pressures (against the cult) are something to be appreciated.”

The lawyer also quoted Asahara as saying that such pressures help cultists achieve religious salvation. The lawyer then asked Aoyama if Asahara’s statements were consistent with the prosecutors’ assertion that Asahara had predicted in the speech that a “formidable calamity will be incurred against the (Nagano District) Court and local residents.”

The defense team apparently gained from Aoyama’s testimony when he flatly denied it, saying: “To me, (Asahara’s speech) does not read like that.” Aoyama, however, repeated vague remarks when asked about his own involvement in the land controversy. He is on trial himself for a series of charges, including attempted murder of lawyer Taro Takimoto, attempted fraud and hiding a cultist wanted by police.

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