TOKYO - The former "empress" of Japan's Aum Supreme Truth cult was jailed for three years and eight months Tuesday for helping disciples escape capture after a deadly nerve-gas attack in Tokyo.
The Tokyo District Court found Hisako Ishii guilty of providing a combined 35 million yen (300,000 dollars) to three cult members who took part in the March 1995 gas attack on Tokyo's subway.
The Nazi-invented gas, spread by Aum cult members through packed trains in the morning rush hour, killed 12 people and injured thousands, stunning the world.
The 38-year-old woman, known as the "empress," was then head of the cult's self-styled finance ministry and the highest-ranking mistress of cult leader Shoko Asahara.
Ishii, believed to have given birth to three of the guru's children, was also charged with destroying the body of a 25-year-old follower who died in the course of religious "training."
In a further charge she was accused of submitting false documents to authorities inspecting the sect's purchase of land in Namino village, southern Japan. She had denied all three charges.
"The accused committed the crimes with selfish motives attaching importance solely to the sect's interests," presiding judge Ritsuro Uemura told court, saying she was one of the oldest cadres and ranked second after Asahara.
Ishii was at Asahara's beck and call although she knew the group was engaging in illegal activities, the judge said.
She did not reveal many details of her crimes and "did not show enough regret" despite saying she felt social responsibility, he said.
Ishii listened to the sentence in silence, clutching a white handkerchief in her right hand.
She met Asahara in 1984 when he was teaching a mixture of Indian mysticism and primitive Buddhism in a small yoga-practicing sect in Tokyo.
During the previous hearings, the former cult empress said she had come to realise Asahara was wrong.
"Aum's practice is a process which deprives followers of their minds by increasing their dependence on the guru to an extremity," she told an earlier hearing.
But public security officials questioned whether she had detached herself from the group because her three children still live in a cult communes.
Japan's public security investigation agency has warned the sect is regouping by using funds raised from computer sales.
Computer sales by the cult-operated stores reached seven billion yen (60 million dollars) in the past year, resulting in an estimated profit of one billion yen, the government agency said in a report last week.
The Aum sect gained seven new housing and other facilities in the year, it said, arguing the group "needs a strict watch as it is bustling about a recovery of its power."
There are a total of 34 Aum bases across the nation, and local residents have formed protest groups or filed lawsuits demanding the cult leave 16 of the locations.
Aum escaped being outlawed in January 1997 under legislation against subversive activities -- although it was also held responsible for brutal crimes including another nerve gas attack in the rural city of Matsumoto in 1994 and the 1989 murder of an anti-Aum lawyer and his family.
The law has not been applied to any organisation since it was introduced in 1952 as a presumed tool to control radical left-wing groups.
Cult guru Asahara is on trial on 17 charges. He is blamed for masterminding the subway massacre, the Matsumoto gas attack which left seven people dead, and other crimes.