Ex-prosecutor: 'Aum made preparations to topple the government'

The Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan/November 23, 2011

The Aum Supreme Truth cult could have toppled the government and taken power, even only for a short period, by committing mass murder in Tokyo with 70 tons of deadly sarin gas and 1,000 automatic rifles, a former Supreme Court justice said in an interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun.

Tatsuo Kainaka, 71, led investigations on Aum-related crimes as deputy chief prosecutor at the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office before becoming a Supreme Court justice.

As the last of the Aum trials finally ended Monday, Kainaka discussed lessons learned from authorities' failure to crack down on the cult earlier and how the cult's plan to control the capital was prevented.

The following is an excerpt of comments Kainaka made in the interview conducted by Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer Akihiro Ishihara.

The Yomiuri Shimbun carried an exclusive story headlined "Residual product of sarin detected in Kamikuishikimura, Yamanashi Pref." on the front page of its Jan. 1, 1995, issue.

The article suggested a connection between the Aum Supreme Truth cult and a sarin gas attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture. The cult bristled at the suggestion.

The group destroyed part of its Satian No. 7 facility, where sarin gas was manufactured, in Kamikuishikimura (now part of Fuji-Kawaguchikomachi) to disguise the building as an authentic religious facility, and stopped sarin production.

At that time, the cult was planning to overthrow the government. The group planned to commit mass murder by aerially spraying 70 tons of sarin gas around the Kasumigaseki area and the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. Then, amid the confusion, Aum followers armed with automatic rifles would take control of the capital, according to the plan. The Yomiuri's article was published just before the cult was about to start mass production of sarin.

You could say that the story derailed the group's mass production of sarin gas and plan to topple the government.

The Yomiuri itself could have become a target of the cult's sarin gas attack in retribution for publishing the article. I think the company needed courage to run the story, but thanks to the report, lives of many people were saved.

If you were just hearing about Aum's plan now, you might get the impression that it is absurd. But the cult bought a helicopter for spraying sarin, and succeeded in making a prototype of an automatic rifle. They had trained their followers.

If the plan had been actually carried out, Aum could have controlled the capital, perhaps even for a few days.

At that time, the National Police Agency was the only law enforcement organization with information linking Aum with sarin gas.

The information was not shared with the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office [where I worked at that time]. Reading the Yomiuri story was when I first got a strong suspicion that Aum had carried out the sarin attack in Matsumoto.

Our investigations of the cult faced a series of difficulties. It was fortunate that we could achieve our goal [thwarting Aum's attempt to topple the government] thanks to all-out efforts of prosecutors and police officers.

However, we should learn lessons from the aspects of the investigations we regretted.

Those days, nobody imagined a religious organization would try to destroy the government. There was no law to punish production of sarin. The existing laws were insufficient.

At one point, for example, we discovered that a senior cult member had driven a car carrying automatic rifle parts to a condominium parking lot. However, we weren't sure which law could be applied. The Firearms and Swords Control Law prohibits possession of parts of handguns but not parts of automatic rifles.

As a last-ditch measure, we applied a section of the Penal Code prohibiting unlawful entry to buildings. We accused the cult member of acting to the detriment of residents of the condominium by bringing automatic rifle parts onto its premises. [The senior member ultimately received a prison sentence.]

However, it's unfortunate the law hasn't been revised yet.

After senior members of the cult kidnapped Mr. Kiyoshi Kariya, a notary public, in February 1995, we received many tips that Aum was making illegal materials such as firearms and sarin. We realized we would have to conduct an unprecedentedly large investigation if we were to crack down on all those activities.

We also had to make careful preparations, including countermeasures to protect police officers against toxic gas. We were in the middle of these preparations when Aum launched the sarin attack on the Tokyo subway system on March 20, 1995.

Five days before the March 20 attack, there was a sign it was coming. An attache case left at Kasumigaseki subway station spewed out vapor, but our raid was too late. It was very regrettable.

I think we investigative authorities were slow in collecting information about Aum in every sense. For example, we found the cult had established a central government-like organization with its founder at the center, which included a "science and technology ministry" and an "intelligence ministry." We learned this only after we seized floppy disks and other documents from an Aum member who was arrested in Shiga Prefecture after the subway attack.

We shouldn't forget that it's essential to crack down on crime organizations like Aum at an early stage.

To tell the truth, we actually had a chance to crack down on Aum five years before the attack. Kazuaki Okazaki, on death row for his involvement in murdering the family of anti-Aum lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, offered a deal to the Kanagawa prefectural police in 1990, one year after he committed the crime.

Okazaki, who later changed his surname to Miyamoto, sent the police a map indicating where the victims were buried and suggesting he would confess everything about the case in exchange for commuting his sentence.

However, Japan has no legal system for things like plea bargaining and immunity. If we did, Aum founder and death-row inmate Chizuo Matsumoto and other senior members might have been arrested much earlier and their later crimes prevented.

Currently, the Justice Ministry's Legislative Council is studying what the nation's criminal justice system should be like to meet the needs of the modern times. I hope the council will discuss the lessons we learned from the Aum cases.

Kainaka started his career as a public prosecutor in 1966. As deputy chief prosecutor in the Tokyo district office between 1994 and 1996, he led investigations of Aum-related cases. He served as a Supreme Court justice for about seven years from 2002.

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