Japan Cult Guru Told to Pay $3.7M

The Associated Press/July 25, 2001

Tokyo -- The cult guru accused of masterminding the deadly Tokyo subway gassing in 1995 was ordered on Wednesday to pay $3.7 million to the families of four victims killed in a separate poison attack.

The Tokyo District Court said it found Shoko Asahara, 46, guilty of plotting the June 27, 1994, sarin gas assault in the central Japanese city of Matsumoto.

Seven people were killed and 144 others sickened in the attack on a quiet residential area. The gassing was carried out by members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult, which advocated overthrowing the Japanese government by sowing chaos.

Asahara is still on trial for numerous charges, including the March 1995 nerve gas attack on Tokyo's subway system that killed 12 people and sickened thousands of others during morning rush-hour.

In August, 1995, eight family members of four victims killed in the Matsumoto attack sued Asahara and the cult, seeking a combined compensation of $4.4 million.

The plaintiffs claimed the attack was carried out by Asahara and his group. Throughout the trial, Asahara denied producing sarin or ordering the attack.

With the latest ruling, the total amount Asahara has been ordered to pay for victims killed or injured in a series of cult-led attacks exceeds $20 million, Kyodo News agency said.

Asahara has not yet compensated any of the victims because he doesn't have the ability to pay, Kyodo said.

After Wednesday's ruling, the plaintiffs told reporters that they will examine Asahara's assets before seeking a court injunction to have his property seized, Kyodo said.

Aum Shinrikyo was declared bankrupt in March 1996. The cult has regrouped under a new name, Aleph. It is under surveillance by Japan's Public Safety Agency, which has warned that the group is still a threat.

Several former cult leaders have been sentenced to death for their roles in the 1995 subway gassing and other killings. Asahara himself did not directly take part in either the Matsumoto or Tokyo gassings.

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