Enforce new laws applicable to Aum cult

POINT OF VIEW/ Takaji Kunimatsu: Enforce new laws applicable to Aum cult

To advance the investigation of Aum Shinrikyo, a cult that committed unprecedented crimes, we had to strip it down. Before March 1995, a number of prefectural police departments had bits and pieces of information concerning the abduction of anti-Aum lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto and his family and the sarin gas poisoning incident in Matsumoto. But there was no substantial evidence to link them and allow the police to step in further to uncover what the cult was up to.

Amid such circumstances, Kiyoshi Kariya, chief clerk of the Meguro Notary Public Office, was abducted. Until then, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department had no jurisdiction, but the abduction case allowed it to come to the fore and raid several Aum-related facilities. As a result, the investigation made considerable advancements. However, the Aum incident left behind a major lesson about police jurisdiction.

To overcome this problem, the Police Law was revised to allow police departments of other prefectures to take part in investigations for specific cases irrespective each other’s jurisdiction. Since the police were late in responding to sarin, a substance that we never took into account, we also appropriated additional budget allocations to criminal and scientific investigations and improved equipment.

At the time of the incidents, I, as the chief of the National Police Agency, requested that the chiefs of prefectural police give top priority to Aum-even if it meant putting off other cases-and report to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department so that information would be centralized. An optical disk that the Shiga prefectural police confiscated from a follower provided a major clue to solve a case.

The Ishikawa prefectural police also arrested Ikuo Hayashi, who held the key that led to the arrest of Chizuo Matsumoto. It was thus we advanced investigations thanks to the cooperation of prefectural police.

I find it deeply regrettable that I was forced to leave my post as commander when I was shot down while the investigation was progressing at full force.

When victims and their families tell us that if the police had stepped in earlier, the damage would not have spread as much, I find myself speechless. The investigation progressed at a great cost.

I don’t want similar incidents to occur ever again, but if they occurred now, I am confident that the police could better deal with them.

Each of the Aum-related crimes has been tried in the court of justice in the first instance. The rulings mark the end of a phase, but it doesn’t mean this is the end. Although Aum Shinrikyo changed its name, the cult still continues to exist and Matsumoto continues to exert influence.

Aum Shinrikyo killed more than 20 people. More than 10 of its members, including its guru, have been sentenced to death. One reason that such an organization continues to survive is that the cult itself is unable to fully grasp and recognize the significance of what it did.

Another major reason is the failure of Japan’s legal and social frameworks to grasp what the Aum case is about. The court system may be useful in trying individual criminal acts. But the court alone cannot decide how the nation and society as a whole should treat groups that commit such indiscriminate mass murders.

Before the subway sarin gas poisoning, making and possessing sarin was not illegal in itself. Japan hastily made a law to ban such acts after the incident. But the fact that Aum still exists puzzles many in other advanced countries.

When the Subversive Activities Prevention Act was established, it did not take into account Aum-like organizations.

If the law cannot be applied to such organizations, we should discuss what kind of law is needed to deal with them and make one. The existing law that regulates groups only monitors them and is extremely lackadaisical. That is why Aum continues to haunt us and society remains unable to fully come to grips with it.

We should not declare the case closed with the judgment that found Matsumoto guilty. Only when society can properly draw a clear line, can the people who still remain with Aum make a fresh start.

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Takaji Kunimatsu was born in 1937 and joined the National Police Agency in 1961. After serving as the head of the Criminal Investigation Bureau and other posts, he became director-general of the agency in July 1994. Although he was seriously injured when he was shot in March 1995, Kunimatsu resumed his official duties 77 days later. The shooting incident remains unsolved. After retiring from the agency, Kunimatsu served as Japanese ambassador to Switzerland. He is currently president of HEM-Net: Emergency Medical Network of Helicopter and Hospital.

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