Prosecutors on Wednesday notified the Tokyo District Court that they have dropped four drug-manufacturing related charges against Aum Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara in an attempt to speed up his trial.
Asahara is believed to be the mastermind behind the two sarin gas attacks in Japan in the mid-1990s and is also thought to be behind numerous other heinous crimes.
The Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office also suspect Asahara was involved in the illegal manufacture of amphetamines, mescaline, thiopental and LSD.
But officials from the office said there were no victims involved in the alleged drug manufacture and that withdrawing the charges will not affect the severity of the punishment they expect Asahara to receive in relation to the 13 charges he still faces.
Nevertheless, it is rare for prosecutors to drop charges in order to hasten a trial.
Drug-production related charges were also dropped for former senior Aum members Seiichi Endo and Masami Tsuchiya, who still face charges related to their suspected involvement in the 1995 sarin gas attack on Tokyo’s subways.
The court is expected to approve all withdrawals, meaning Asahara’s trial will be shortened by several months, legal sources said.
In December 1997, prosecutors cut the number of victims named in the indictment of Asahara over the Tokyo sarin gas attack from some 4,000 to 18, also to speed up the trial.
“We have done the best to speed up the pace of the trial,” said Koichi Ueda of the Tokyo prosecutors, “and dropping some charges is the best way to realize the goal.”
Asahara’s trial opened in April 1996 but has yet to reach the halfway stage, when the defense will begin presenting its case.
There have been 169 hearings in Asahara’s case so far, but the trial had yet to get to the four drug-manufacturing charges.
Prosecutors are to start addressing the 13th charge, relating to the alleged mass production of sarin gas, on Friday.
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