AUM places raided over illegal land purchase

July 16, 1999

NAGANO, Japan, Kyodo) -- Police on Friday raided facilities of the AUM Shinrikyo cult in 13 prefectures in connection with the May arrest of an AUM follower on suspicion of purchasing land under a false name.

Police searched 27 facilities and places related to the cult in Tokyo, Sapporo, Nagoya, Osaka and other areas on suspicion of fraud and confiscated some 1,100 items including seals, personal computers, and floppy disks believed to have been used in the crime.

The simultaneous raid was conducted by 650 police including officers from the Metropolitan Police Department and other prefectural police.

Police said the search was conducted in relation to the May 18 arrest of a 39-year-old man accused of using forged documents to buy land in the mountain village of Kawakami, Nagano Prefecture.

They said they will examine whether the seized seals were used in forging documents to purchase land in Kawakami, and probe into the cult's systematic involvement in the case by analyzing confiscated materials.

Two prefabricated buildings, which police believe belong to the cult, have been erected on the site.

According to investigations, the man, whom police say is one of the cult's longest-standing members, bought 17 hectares of forested land in July 1996 from a local landowner for 17 million yen using the name of a 38-year-old man not related to the deal.

To do so, the man pretended to be the president of a campsite management company in Tokyo, investigators said.

Police also arrested a company president in Tokyo's Nakano Ward on suspicion of obtaining a forged stamp certificate of the 38-year-old man. The president and the 38-year-old man are reportedly acquaintances.

The two buildings in the village were also raided. Police also searched the cult's facilities in Saitama, Gunma, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Kanagawa, Shiga, Fukuoka and Okinawa prefectures.

A number of AUM members, including founder Shoko Asahara, have been charged with murder and attempted murder in the 1995 sarin gas attack on Tokyo's subway system, along with other crimes. The subway attack killed 12 people and injured thousands of others.

In January 1997, the Public Security Commission, an independent administrative body, rejected the government's request to apply the Antisubversive Activities Law to disband AUM. The commission said AUM no longer posed a threat to society as it had been declared bankrupt and Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, and most of his followers had been arrested.

The government is now considering new legislation to restrict AUM's activities. The decision was prompted by recent signs indicating a resurgence of the group and the recent return to the group of members who have finished serving prison terms.

AUM's recent activities in various parts of Japan have sparked anxiety among local residents.

The government is considering placing the sect under strict watch by revising the 1952 Antisubversive Activities Law, even if the group may not pose a threat to society, according to government sources.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, the Liberal Party, agreed Monday to set up a task force to soothe public anxiety over the religious group.

The proposed task force is expected to study the possibility of establishing a new law aimed at controlling the cult's activities, as well as possibly revising the antisubversion law to control AUM and support the victims of past AUM-related activities, government officials said.

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