Police have no choice but to start again from scratch.
Tokyo prosecutors, citing a lack of evidence, on Wednesday had to release four former members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult arrested in the 1995 shooting of Takaji Kunimatsu, then commissioner-general of the National Police Agency. The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office announced it was “difficult to identify the shooter and his accomplices with the evidence at hand.”
The suspects were arrested July 7 by the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). The latest development means the law-enforcement agencies cannot bring criminal action against those suspected of involvement in the attempt to kill the nation’s top police official. To describe the investigation as shoddy would be a gross understatement. We are appalled by the fact that the police have blundered twice in this high-profile case.
In 1996, a year after the shooting, a former police officer who used to be an Aum disciple, confessed that he had shot Kunimatsu. But the Public Security Division of the MPD did not bother trying to corroborate his confession, nor did it alert the National Police Agency. The MPD’s negligence came to light because of a whistle-blower. The chief of the MPD’s Public Security Division, who took command of the investigation of the case, was replaced. The former police officer, Yoshiyuki Kosugi, told investigators that he threw the gun used in the shooting into the Kanda River. Police searched the river to no avail and the criminal investigation hit a dead-end.
More than seven years passed and then Kosugi told police he had lent his coat to the gunman. On the basis of that statement, the police concluded that one of the conspirators in the 1989 slaying of anti-Aum lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto and his family was the actual shooter. They also believed that Kosugi and others helped the gunman escape.
Circumstantial evidence certainly implicates Kosugi. Infinitesimal metallic fragments were on his coat, which are presumed to have been dropped when the gunman opened fire. Furthermore, it emerged that Kosugi was questioned by another police officer near the scene of crime several days before the shooting.
During questioning after his arrest, however, Kosugi changed his story and said he himself may have shot Kunimatsu. The central question of who shot Kunimatsu was now up in the air, severely undermining the police investigation.
Instances of false accusations in the past remind us that overly relying on a suspect’s statements can be tricky. Moreover, the police should have known full well from their own bitter experience that the former police officer’s confession could not be relied on.
Furthermore, the cult follower who the MPD believes was the gunman denies involvement. During his trial, the man went into great detail describing how he and others killed lawyer Sakamoto’s family. The man was sentenced to death, and this was upheld on appeal. It is hard to believe he would tell lies about the shooting of the NPA chief when he was so forthright about his other crimes.
So why did the MPD embark on such an ill-conceived investigation? Of course, the police felt hard-pressed to wind up the case given the lack of hard evidence.
But something is very wrong with this picture. We wonder if the police would have resorted to such tactics if the suspects were not former followers of Aum Shinrikyo. If the police thought they could arrest them on the basis of flimsy evidence because they are Aum members, it was a dangerous mind-set.
Citizens of this country feel insecure because the law and order situation is getting worse. Naturally, they want the police to solve heinous crimes speedily. But conducting a criminal investigation that is so poorly thought out that the public prosecutors cannot bring formal charges only leads to loss of trust in law-enforcement agencies.
Only five years remain before the statute of limitation expires in the case. The criminal investigation must begin anew, and from scratch.