National / Crime & Legal

Japan’s Supreme Court upholds acquittal of ex-Aum Shinrikyo cult member in Tokyo bombing case

Kyodo

The Supreme Court has upheld a lower court ruling that acquitted former Aum Shinrikyo cult member Naoko Kikuchi over her role in a 1995 parcel bombing at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building.

Rejecting an appeal filed by prosecutors, the top court’s First Petty Bench said in its decision dated Monday that the Tokyo District Court’s 2014 ruling that Kikuchi was guilty of assisting in attempted murder was based on an error, and that it endorses the Tokyo High Court’s 2015 decision to overturn the lower court’s verdict.

Her acquittal will be finalized by Thursday if the prosecution does not file an objection.

Kikuchi, 46, was arrested in June 2012 after 17 years on the run. She was later indicted over her role in the parcel bombing in May 1995, two months after the Tokyo subway sarin gas attack orchestrated by Aum Shinrikyo killed 13 people and made more than 6,000 others ill.

In the bombing incident, members of Aum sent a parcel containing a bomb to the Metropolitan Government head office, resulting in an explosion that seriously injured a Tokyo government employee.

Masaaki Utsumi, 66, lost all the fingers and thumb on his left hand in the explosion. He said in a statement released Wednesday that he thinks its difficult to verify the facts two decades later.

“I think the passage of 20 years has made the truth of the incident easily forgotten and prevented a trial from properly verifying guilt,” he said. Utsumi said he is concerned that people’s memory of the case itself will fade as time goes on.

Utsumi was injured when he opened the booklet in which the bomb was set while checking mail addressed to then-Tokyo Gov. Yukio Aoshima.

The bombing was intended to disrupt a police investigation into the cult and prevent the arrest of Aum founder Shoko Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto.

A key point of contention in Kikuchi’s trial was whether she was aware of the possibility that the chemicals she carried to one of the cult’s hideouts would be used to kill or harm people.

She pleaded not guilty, saying she “didn’t know” how they would be used.

In a lay judge trial at the Tokyo District Court, Kikuchi was sentenced to five years in prison, but the top court pointed out that the lower court’s process of inferring her awareness was “illogical.”

With the effective conclusion of Kikuchi’s trial, only the case involving Katsuya Takahashi is ongoing among a series of trials against individuals with ties to Aum. Takahashi, who also spent 17 years at large, is appealing a murder conviction stemming from the subway sarin gas attack. He was sentenced to life in prison by district and high courts.

Kikuchi is the second person to be fully acquitted among those accused in the series of Aum-linked crimes.

Yuji Nakamura, a lawyer for a support group for victims of crimes committed by the Aum Shinrikyo cult, warned the religious body is still active and teaches its members that the criminal cases were concocted and cult leader Matsumoto on death row is not guilty.

“The cult should not utilize the latest Supreme Court decision as a proof (of its argument),” he said.

Kikuchi joined Aum Shinrikyo in 1989 and served as a poster girl for the cult by running in marathon races to advertise the group.