Ex-cultist arrested for hiding Aum’s Hirata

Nurse harbored fugitive in Osaka, was once wanted for aiding flight


Tokyo police arrested a 49-year-old woman Tuesday on suspicion of harboring Aum Shinrikyo fugitive Makoto Hirata, who turned himself in on New Year’s Eve after nearly 17 years on the run in connection with a kidnap-slaying.

Akemi Saito, a former member of the doomsday cult who was earlier wanted by police on suspicion of aiding the flight of another cult fugitive, reportedly told officers that she harbored the 46-year-old Hirata in Osaka for some 14 years.

Hirata faces charges of conspiring with condemned Aum guru Shoko Asahara and other cultists to abduct Kiyoshi Kariya, the chief clerk at a notary office in Tokyo, in February 1995. Since his arrest, Hirata has reportedly admitted driving a lookout car for the kidnapping.

He also stands accused of confining Kariya and being involved in giving the captive a lethal injection on March 1, 1995. Kariya’s corpse has never been found, but testimony during Aum-related trials indicated he was cremated at a cult compound.

Saito turned herself in at the Osaki Police Station in Shinagawa Ward shortly after 3 a.m. Tuesday, the police said. She was accompanied by attorney Taro Takimoto, who is also representing Hirata and has been interviewing him since his arrest.

Saito told investigators she harbored Hirata and lived in Osaka Prefecture for more than 14 years, the police said.

On Tuesday night, the Tokyo police searched the woman’s apartment in the city of Higashi-Osaka and her workplace, an osteopathic clinic in the city.

Since his arrest, Hirata has refused to tell investigators about where he stayed during his nearly 17 years on the lam or who may have helped him. But Takimoto said he was told by Hirata that a woman who hid him lives in Higashi-Osaka and he went there to meet her.

Saito, a former nurse from the city of Sukagawa, Fukushima Prefecture, joined Aum in 1993. She was unaccounted for after police searched Aum’s installations in 1995 following the cult’s sarin attack on the Tokyo subway system that March 20.

It is now known she worked at a restaurant in Sendai from 1995 to 1996.

Saito was wanted in connection with falsifying documents and helping another Aum fugitive escape, but the statute of limitations on both those crimes had expired by 2000.

The Penal Code mandates punishment of up to two years in prison or a fine of up to ¥200,000 for harboring or enabling the escape of a person who has committed a punishable crime.

Last month, a series of criminal trials involving Aum members ended when the Supreme Court rejected an objection from a senior cultist against the top court’s Nov. 21 decision upholding his death sentence.

Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, and 12 of his henchmen have been condemned for a spate of Aum’s heinous crimes., including the 1995 Tokyo subway attack and the deadly June 1994 sarin gassing in the city of Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture.