But Japanese security authorities, which closely monitor the cult and Joyu’s splinter group, criticised the meeting as a mere publicity stunt.
The Aum sect killed seven people in Matsumoto by unleashing Nazi-invented sarin nerve gas, in an apparent rehearsal for a 1995 attack on Tokyo subway trains that left another 12 people dead and thousands injured.
Kono, whose wife is still in a coma, was falsely accused by police and media of being responsible for the gas leak because he was close to the scene at the time.
“Three executive members including Joyu met Mr. Kono and made a special apology to him because he was a victim of the false reports and was wrongly accused,” Joyu’s spokesman Akitoshi Hirosue said.
Joyu, 44, acknowledged that he lied to the media as the then spokesman for the cult, Hirosue said. Joyu has also previously sent Kono written apologies but this was the first face-to-face meeting.
The bearded, half-blind Asahara is on death row for the nerve gas attacks.
Joyu’s splinter group, named Hikari no Wa (“Circle of Brilliance”) has about 200 members including new recruits.
But Japanese authorities allege that Joyu was merely posing and questioned his meeting with Kono.
“It may be a performance to show that he is not tainted by the Matsumoto case and that he has parted” from the main cult, Kyodo News quoted an official of Japan’s Public Security Intelligence Agency as saying.
The Aum cult has also apologised for the attacks. It has renamed itself Aleph — after the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet — and deposed Asahara, but authorities say hardcore followers still revere him.