LEAD: High court upholds death sentence for AUM member Tsuchiya

Kyodo News/August 18, 2006

The Tokyo High Court on Friday upheld the death sentence passed on Masami Tsuchiya, a former senior member of AUM Shinrikyo, for his role in making sarin and other poisons used in crimes committed by the cult, including the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin attack.

The high court rejected an appeal by Tsuchiya, 41, against the death sentence passed on him in January 2004 by the Tokyo District Court, which found him guilty on six out of seven counts, the exception being a charge of hiding two wanted AUM members. He was found guilty of murder and other charges that led to the deaths of 20 people.

"It is not an exaggeration to say that without him, the AUM-related crimes in which chemical weapons were used could not have taken place," the district court said. "He played a major role in a series of crimes."

The district court said Tsuchiya continued to be a follower of AUM founder Shoko Asahara, while repeating excuses for the crimes and failing to offer a sincere apology to the victims.

Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, was sentenced to death by the Tokyo District Court on Feb. 27, 2004 for his role in 13 criminal cases, including the Tokyo subway attacks.

In June, Asahara's defense counsel filed a special appeal at the Supreme Court seeking to overturn the Tokyo High Court's rejection of his appeal against the death sentence.

The district court concluded that Tsuchiya had developed all the chemical weapons used in the crimes he was charged with, on the instructions of Asahara.

The high court opened the appeal hearings last November but Tsuchiya did not show up, saying he had no obligation to appear in court. He also refused to see court-appointed defense lawyers.

In contrast to Tsuchiya's original trial, which took more than 100 hearings over eight years, the high court appeal sessions ended in May this year, after just four hearings.

In the appeal, Tsuchiya's defense lawyers said he did not intend to kill anyone as he was not informed of specific plans about attacking the subway. They also claimed that AUM unilaterally took advantage of his scientific knowledge.

Tsuchiya was in a doctoral program in chemistry at Tsukuba University when he became a live-in member of the cult.

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