Makoto Hirata, one of the last Aum Shinrikyo cultists yet to be tried, on Thursday played down his involvement in the 1995 kidnapping of a Tokyo notary, telling the Tokyo District Court in his first trial session that he only drove the getaway car and had no inkling of what was to unfold.

Hirata's trial is likely to cast a spotlight again on the litany of crimes committed by the doomsday cult in the 1990s. The trial, set to run for two months, also marks the first time an Aum defendant has been tried under the lay judge system.

A total of 189 Aum members have been brought to trial. Of them, 13 were sentenced to hang, including their 58-year-old guru, Shoko Asahara, and five to life imprisonment. Asahara's real name is Chizuo Matsumoto.