Four Aum arrests include cop whose confession was initially discounted

Cultists held for ’95 NPA boss ambush

Police on Wednesday morning arrested four Aum Shinrikyo figures, including a former Tokyo police officer, in connection with the 1995 shooting of then National Police Agency chief Takaji Kunimatsu.

The ex-senior officer, Toshiyuki Kosugi, 39, had owned up to the shooting about a year later while still on the force but was not charged due to lack of evidence — police divers were unable to find the gun in the Kanda River where he claimed to have thrown it.

Police Department inspectors believe the four conspired with another cultist who actually was the triggerman. The suspected shooter is Satoru Hashimoto, 37, who has been sentenced to death for the murder of a Yokohama lawyer and the attorney’s wife and son and for other crimes. He is currently appealing his death sentence.

Kunimatsu was shot three times in the stomach in front of his home in Tokyo’s Arakawa Ward at around 8:30 a.m. on March 30, 1995. The gunman fled the scene on a black bicycle, police said.

The shooting happened eight days after Tokyo police began investigating Aum in connection with the March 20, 1995, sarin attack on the Tokyo subway system that killed 12 people and injured more than 5,500.

Police investigators said they decided to make the arrests after finding new evidence: An analysis of gunpowder traces on one of Kosugi’s coats using the world’s largest synchrotron radiation facility in Hyogo Prefecture detected the same chemical compound as that of the bullets fired at Kunimatsu.

Arrested along with Kosugi are Mitsuo Sunaoshi, 36, Tetsuya Uemura, 49, and Koichi Ishikawa, 35, police said.

Among the four, Sunaoshi is still a member of the cult, which renamed itself Aleph in January 2000.

Kosugi, Sunaoshi and Uemura were arrested on suspicion of attempted murder, and Ishikawa was arrested on suspicion of violating the explosives control law in connection with the 1995 bombing of the home of a professor of religion who was critical of Aum, police said.

Kosugi, who is believed to have joined Aum around 1988, told police he cased the NPA chief’s home and offered details about the ambush, investigative sources said. Based on his admission, police at the time sent divers into the Kanda River looking for the gun.

Uemura rode a bicycle in Kunimatsu’s neighborhood shortly after the attack so people would think he was the shooter, the sources said.

Sunaoshi’s voice matches a recording of a phone call to a Tokyo news agency. “Stop investigating Aum,” the caller said. The name of the agency has not been released.

Ishikawa has been primarily charged with bombing the house of cult expert Hiromi Shimada in March 1995, causing a small fire. But police also believe he relayed the order to kill Kunimatsu from cult guru Shoko Asahara to the gunman and his accomplices.

Asahara, 49, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, was sentenced to death Feb. 27 for 13 criminal counts, including masterminding the subway attack, a deadly nerve gas attack a year earlier and other killings.

Police raided Ishikawa’s house in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward and Kosugi’s in the town of Sagara, Shizuoka Prefecture, as part of the arrests, they said. Uemura was flown from Kochi to Tokyo.

Sunaoshi, Uemura and Ishikawa have denied the charges, while Kosugi has admitted his involvement in the shooting, investigative sources said.

When police investigators showed Kosugi a photograph of Hashimoto, Kosugi told them, “This man looks like the triggerman,” the sources said. Kosugi and Hashimoto barely knew each other, they said.

They said the case supporting Hashimoto’s involvement in the ambush is growing.

Witnesses have said they saw a man near the scene of the shooting who looks like Hashimoto, the sources said.

In May 1996, Kosugi made what police later reckoned was a false confession to shooting Kunimatsu, after divers the following October failed to come up with the pistol. He was not charged in the shooting and Tokyo prosecutors did not pursue a criminal case against him, as sought by police, for leaking police information.

Kunimatsu told reporters at his house in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward, “I have nothing to say at present,” about the arrest of the four.

At the time he was shot, Kunimatsu was spearheading the probe into the cult.

Kunimatsu recovered from his wounds and retired in 1997. He served as ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein from 1999 to 2002.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda welcomed the arrests, saying the NPA is still monitoring the activities of Aum.

“Key suspects have been found and arrested. That’s very pleasing,” the top government spokesman said, recalling the assault on the ex-NPA chief as “a very grave incident.”

“We’d hope the case is handled in a fair and strict manner,” Hosoda said.

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