TOKYO — The cult leader charged with murder in a nerve gas attack on Tokyo’s subways has confessed to that and other killings, reports said yesterday. His cult said the confession had been forced.
Members of the cult, Aum Shinri Kyo, or Sublime Truth, and some reports also said the confession was not strong enough to be admissible as evidence. Police would not comment.
The cult leader, Shoko Asahara, has been charged with masterminding the March 20 subway attack that killed 12 and sickened 5,500. Police believe cult members carried out the attack to fulfill Asahara’s predictions of doom.
Asahara has denied involvement in the gassing.
He is also charged in a nerve gas attack in central Japan last year that killed seven people; with directing the 1989 murder of an anti-cult lawyer and his family; and with involvement in the murder in February of a man who was helping his younger sister try to leave the cult.
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“In each case, I gave the order and group leaders carried it out,” Japan’s public television network, NHK, quoted Asahara as telling investigators in a written confession.
But the cult drafted a statement quoting Asahara’s lawyer as saying the confession had been forced and would be inadmissible.
A white-robed follower appeared outside the cult’s headquarters late last night, handing out photocopies of the unsigned statement.
The Tokyo Broadcasting System, a commercial network, quoted Asahara as saying “I submit my unconditional surrender” but also said his confession didn’t appear concrete enough to be used.
Signed confessions almost guarantee convictions in Japan, and obtaining them is a standard tactic of prosecutors, who work closely with police. They are one reason for Japan’s conviction rate of 99 percent in cases that go to trial.
Legal analysts have predicted Asahara’s trial, to start Oct. 26, could take years if he maintains his innocence. If he is convicted and loses appeals, he could face the death penalty.
While most of the cult’s leaders are in jail, seven fugitive members are being sought on suspicion of involvement in the subway attack and other crimes.
Police were reported yesterday to be examining sodium cyanide found at an abandoned mountain campsite of one of the fugitives, Satoru Hirata, to determine if it matches that used in an attempted gas attack on May 6 in one of Tokyo’s busiest train stations.
Some fear the fugitives may attempt similar attacks when Asahara’s trial begins.