Anti-Aum law searches begin

Asahi Shimbun, February 4, 2000

February 4, 2000 The Public Security Investigation Agency and police today conducted their first inspections of Aum Shinrikyo facilities under a new law aimed at controlling the cult's activities.

More than 200 officials were involved in the inspections. The agency on Thursday presented its inspection plans to the Public Security Examination Commission, which on Monday granted the agency permission to put the cult under surveillance in accordance with the anti-Aum law, enacted in December. The five Aum facilities that were searched have been the scene of protests from neighboring residents, according to the agency.

The facilities are located in Otawara, Tochigi Prefecture; Koshigaya, Saitama Prefecture; Sanwa, Ibaraki Prefecture; Minokamo, Gifu Prefecture; and Kosei, Shiga Prefecture.

Agency officials said they will inspect other facilities across the country to uncover more details of the cult's activities.

Agency officials and police officers entered the cult facilities after showing identification and obtaining Aum's consent to the searches, which were conducted voluntarily and did not involve a search warrant. During the inspections, agency officials and police officers are permitted to take photographs and examine account books and other documents. But they must ask cult members for permission to open locked safes and cannot confiscate materials.

Should the cult obstruct the inspections by refusing to open locked safes, for example, the agency chief can instruct the commission to apply the law's more serious provisions, including a ban on the use of Aum facilities by cult members.

At an apartment and warehouse where the cult operates a food sales company in Minokamo, more than 10 agency officials and police investigators started their inspection shortly after 8 a.m. today. After one agency official asked over a building intercom for permission to enter, the woman at the other end told him to wait for her to finish talking on the telephone. About four minutes later, the door was opened and inspectors entered the building.

A 66-year-old man living in the neighborhood said he hoped authorities would find out what is going on inside the cult building, and that he wanted Aum to leave as soon as possible.

According to the agency, the cult-which now calls itself Aleph-currently has 26 facilities nationwide. Before December, when Aum closed down or sold some of them, it had 33.

Authorities plan several rounds of inspections at 12 more facilities where local residents have protested Aum's presence, officials said. The commission gave the agency and police a three-year mandate to keep the cult under surveillance.

The cult is required during that period to report the names and addresses of its members and the details of its assets every three months.

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