Ex-AUM member Saito expresses regret over joining cult

Mainichi, Japan/January 31, 2012

Ex-AUM Shinrikyo cult member Akemi Saito, charged with harboring another former member wanted by police for years, has expressed regret over joining the cult, says a lawyer handling her and the other former member's cases.

Saito, 49, is charged with harboring former cult member Makoto Hirata, 46, for almost 17 years while knowing he was a fugitive. According to lawyer Taro Takimoto, who talked with Saito on Jan. 30, she said, "If I had not joined the cult and renounced the world, I think I could have had a different life," "I wish I'd turned myself in earlier," and "I will truthfully and sincerely say all at trial."

Takimoto says that while on the run, Saito read a book by AUM member Ikuo Hayashi, now 65 and serving a life sentence, in which he expressed regret over the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway. Saito trusted the words of Hayashi, and the book is thought to have encouraged her to stop following the cult's teachings.

About Hirata, Saito has said, "Respect (for him) turned to love." She has said that while on the run from police she went to Fukushima, Miyagi, and Aomori prefectures, Sendai and then Osaka. When she turned herself in on Jan. 10 she was carrying 8 million yen, of which she said, "I want this to be used to compensate the victims."

Police believe Hirata and Saito may have been helped by people affiliated with AUM Shinrikyo during their time as fugitives, but so far no such evidence has surfaced.

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