AUM guru ordered to pay damages for lethal gassing

Mainichi Daily News/July 25, 2001

AUM Shinrikyo guru Shoko Asahara was ordered by a Tokyo court Wednesday to pay 465 million yen to families of victims of the doomsday cult's 1994 deadly gassing of Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture.

Presiding Judge Kazuo Ichinomiya of the Tokyo District Court awarded the payout to the families of four of the seven people who died in the gas attack apparently aimed at the judges in a court case in which AUM was involved at the time.

"I can imagine the distress of victims whose lives were taken away without knowing how or why," Ichinomiya said before ordering the damages be paid.

The judge recognized Asahara as being the mastermind behind the hideous crime.

"Matsumoto possessed absolute power within the cult and it is only natural to conclude that he ordered his subordinates to carry out the attack to kill as many local residents as possible," Ichinomiya said.

The latest ruling pushed the total amount of damages Asahara has been ordered to pay victims of his various crimes to over 2 billion yen. However, since Asahara's personal assets total only 9.6 million yen, there is no possibility of him fulfilling his financial obligations.

Nonetheless, families of the Matsumoto gassing victims said they were happy about Wednesday's outcome.

"It's not a question of the money," said Kazuyoshi Abe, who lost his 19-year-old son Yuta in the attack. "I joined the suit (to clarify who was to blame). As a father, I had to do something about it."

Yoshinori Ito, a member of the plaintiff's legal team, agreed.

"The most important thing about the suit was to legally recognize his (Asahara's) responsibility," Ito said, who added that their aim was accomplished by making the guru's former subordinates testify against him.

Originally, the suit had named Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, and AUM, but because the cult went bankrupt in March 1996, the plaintiffs came to an out-of-court settlement with its receiver in March 1998. The plaintiffs received a payout of 510 million yen and dropped the case against the cult, directing their litigation exclusively at its guru and founder.

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