An Aum Shinrikyo cultist on death row almost certainly fired the shots meant to kill National Police Agency chief Takaji Kunimatsu in Tokyo in 1995, sources say.
Satoru Hashimoto, 37, was sentenced to death for his part in the murder of anti-Aum lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto and his wife and infant son, and other Aum crimes. Hashimoto’s appeal against the sentence is now with the Supreme Court.
Hashimoto’s name cropped up during questioning of Toshiyuki Kosugi, 39, a former police officer and disciple of the cult who was arrested Wednesday with two other cultists in connection with the shooting, according to sources close to the investigation.
Kosugi, who in 1996 confessed to being the shooter and later retracted the statement, told investigators he received a telephone call the day before the shooting from Kiyohide Hayakawa, 54, a top aide to cult founder Chizuo Matsumoto, 49, to “cooperate.”
On the morning of March 30, 1995, Kosugi said a vehicle driven by a man “resembling Hashimoto” came to pick him up at a police dormitory in Tokyo’s Hongo. Kosugi said he was driven to Arakawa Ward, where Kunimatsu lived.
Hayakawa and Tetsuya Uemura, 49, who was arrested Wednesday along with Kosugi, were waiting for him, Kosugi said.
Kunimatsu, then the nation’s top police official, was shot and seriously injured as he left his residence to go to work. The shooter fled the scene by bicycle.
Witnesses placed men resembling Hayakawa and Hashimoto near the scene.
Hashimoto was a former senior member of the cult’s “home affairs ministry” and Hayakawa served as “construction minister.”
Kosugi kept referring to someone who resembled Hashimoto, which suggests he was not on close terms with the cultist.
Kosugi told police that the man who he thought was Hashimoto asked to borrow his coat, which Kosugi duly handed over, after arriving near the apartment block.
Kosugi waited in the vehicle but fell asleep. He was awakened by a loud noise as several men, including the man he believed to be Hashimoto, got back in the car.
Kosugi was dropped off about 3 kilometers away, in Bunkyo Ward.
At that point, the coat was returned to Kosugi with a suggestion he send it to a dry cleaner’s right away.
Kosugi got the garment cleaned that morning, apparently to erase traces of gunshot residue that was discharged when shots were fired.
Metropolitan Police Department investigators are convinced Hashimoto was the shooter.
But Hashimoto refuses to discuss the case, sources said.
Kosugi, a police officer at the time, was transferred from his usual beat to the Tsukiji Police Station, where the investigation team for the March 20, 1995, sarin nerve-gas attack on Tokyo’s subway system was based.
In his spare time, however, Kosugi would check out the area where the NPA chief lived, sources said.
Hayakawa and Hashimoto are known to have returned from Russia, where the cult also had followers, on March 22, just after the sarin attack. Hayakawa is believed to have been in overall charge of the attempt on Kunimatsu’s life.
Police on Thursday raided several cult facilities, including its headquarters in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward, in connection with the shooting.