National

15 years sought for Aum lawyer in sarin gassing

Prosecutors on Monday demanded 15 years in prison for a former Aum Shinrikyo lawyer accused of conspiring to kill anticult lawyer Taro Takimoto in May 1994 by releasing sarin gas. Takimoto suffered minor injuries at the time.

Yoshinobu Aoyama, 39, stands accused of seven other charges, including defaming a company president, harboring Aum fugitive Takeshi Matsumoto and submitting false documents to local authorities.

In a statement read before the Tokyo District Court, prosecutors said Aoyama attempted to help the cult dodge its responsibility in the series of crimes by misusing his knowledge as a lawyer.

They added that Aoyama went so far as to attempt to kill his legal opponent.

“What the defendant tried to do during the hearings was to place the blame on other people or downplay his criminal responsibility instead of telling the truth and being repentant,” one of the prosecutors said.

The prosecution said Asahara ordered Aoyama and four other cultists to murder Takimoto, a Kanagawa Prefecture lawyer supporting former cult members and their families.

In May 1994, in a parking lot at the Kofu District Court in Yamanashi Prefecture, Aum members allegedly applied sarin on the windshield of Takimoto’s car while the lawyer was attending a civil trial against the cult, they said.

Aoyama falsely claimed at a January 1995 news conference that a local agricultural chemical company spread poison gases at the Kamikuishiki complex in Yamanashi Prefecture, prosecutors said.

Asahara told Aoyama to hold a news conference to stress that Aum was the target of a poison gas attack, they said. Asahara also told Aoyama to file a lawsuit against the president of the agricultural chemical firm for the gas poisoning.

The former lawyer also told Matsumoto, 33, to hide in hotels in Ishikawa Prefecture and provided him with 5 million yen between March and April 1995 to help him escape from police.

Matsumoto is currently serving a 4-year prison term for taking part in the February 1995 abduction and killing of Kiyoshi Kariya, a Tokyo notary public.

In another case, Aoyama submitted a false document to local authorities to obtain real estate in the village of Namino, Kumamoto Prefecture.

But when senior cult member Kiyohide Hayakawa, 50, and Aoyama himself were arrested, the defendant asked a certified public accountant to falsely testify for the defense team twice in 1992, they said. In the same trial, Aoyama allegedly submitted a forged document to court to reinforce the testimony.

Aoyama has pleaded not guilty to attempting the murder of Takimoto and submitting a false document during the trial, but owned up to other charges against him. The defense is scheduled to make its final plea on Dec. 24.

A graduate of Kyoto University, Aoyama registered as a lawyer in April 1984. His registration was nullified in June 1995 after he was arrested a month before.