• Kyodo

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A Nagano Prefectural Assembly committee Thursday approved appointing as a public safety commissioner a man initially branded as the prime suspect in the 1994 fatal nerve-gas attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, that was later blamed on Aum Shinrikyo.

The committee on police affairs approved Gov. Yasuo Tanaka’s proposal to appoint company employee Yoshiyuki Kono, 52, as a commissioner. In this capacity, Kono will advise the prefectural police.

The appointment will be officially decided at the assembly’s plenary session Friday, but the committee’s approval effectively means he will get the job.

Kono, who was the first to report the sarin attack to police, was initially considered the prime suspect even though he also was made ill by the gas. His wife remains in a coma from the attack.

In initial news reports after the attack, Kono was erroneously fingered as the suspected perpetrator. The attack claimed the lives of seven local residents and injured more than 100.

Leaders of Aum Shinrikyo have been tried on multiple counts of murder in the Matsumoto case as well as in the sarin attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995, in which 12 people were killed and thousands injured.

The prefectural public security commissioners, of which there are three, are tasked with ensuring the neutrality of police activities and are authorized to give orders to inspect police activities.

The commissioners are usually picked by the governor from a list of people recommended by prefectural police. Tanaka, however, proposed Kono, saying he “is needed to help the prefectural police get along better with the people of Nagano Prefecture.”

During the committee discussion, prefectural police chief Hajime Seki said, “I think we can hear valuable opinions from (Kono) from the point of view of a victim.”

Kono is expected to assume the post July 13, when the term expires for one of the current commissioners.

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