High Court rejects appeal by Aum Shinrikyo member

The Asahi Shimbun, Japan/September 7, 2016

By Aya Shiori

The Tokyo High Court has rejected an appeal by a former member of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult found guilty in the 1995 deadly sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system.

Katsuya Takahashi, 58, had appealed the April 2015 ruling by the Tokyo District Court that sentenced him to an indefinite prison term after being convicted of crimes committed by Aum, including the attack on the subway system.

On Sept. 7, the Tokyo High Court upheld the district court ruling, which determined that Takahashi played a key role in the sarin gas attack as a driver for another member who placed the deadly gas on a subway train.

The sarin gas attack killed 13 people and injured more than 6,000.

Takahashi was also found guilty in connection with the use of toxic VX nerve gas, as well as abducting a Tokyo notary.

Defense lawyers argued that Takahashi had not conspired to commit the crimes with Chizuo Matsumoto, 61, who founded the cult under the name Shoko Asahara, and other Aum members.

Matsumoto is currently on death row.

Defense lawyers said Takahashi was innocent of the sarin gas attack because he was unaware the substance to be released was highly toxic, capable of killing many people.

The lawyers asked that Matsumoto appear for questioning, but the Tokyo High Court denied the request.

No questioning was conducted of Takahashi, and a verdict was reached after only one court hearing in July by the Tokyo High Court.

In the various crimes committed by Aum, 188 people were found guilty with 13 receiving death sentences. Those trials concluded in 2011.

However, the following year, three members on the most-wanted list, including Takahashi, were arrested. That led to the resumption of trials for those three Aum members from 2014.

A nine-year prison sentence has been finalized for Makoto Hirata, 51, for his involvement in the kidnapping of the notary.

In November 2015, Naoko Kikuchi, 44, was found not guilty of aiding an attempted murder in a ruling handed down by the Tokyo High Court. Prosecutors have appealed to the Supreme Court.

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