What were the police thinking? They had four suspects in custody linked to the 1995 shooting of the National Police Agency chief. But then prosecutors said there was insufficient evidence to indict them, and all four were released Wednesday. Why did the police rush ahead with the arrests when they obviously did not have a solid case?
Police sources said investigators, by questioning the four suspects, had banked on getting solid leads to solve a question that had stumped them for nine years: Who shot the nation’s top police official in March 1995?
All four were arrested in July, but three refused to bend under police questioning or admit to involvement in the attack on Takaji Kunimatsu.
The lack of progress derailed police plans for a breakthrough in what surely must be one of their most embarrassing failures.
“I cannot believe the framework of the incident was built around the story of one individual, who was at one time certified as being `unreliable,”’ said a former high-ranking officer in the criminal investigation bureau of the Metropolitan Police Department. “It is only common sense to work on the assumption that suspects will deny any involvement and to seek out evidence that will overturn such denials.”
Kunimatsu was shot just 10 days after Aum Shinrikyo carried out sarin nerve-gas attacks on Tokyo subway system that killed 12 and sickened thousands.
At the time, police officers in the criminal investigation bureau were overwhelmed trying to get to the bottom of a series of crimes believed committed by the mysterious Aum Shinrikyo cult.
Because the criminal investigation bureau was tied down with other Aum crimes, the public security bureau handled the Kunimatsu case. The two bureaus employ entirely different investigative styles. Officers in the criminal investigation bureau try to narrow down suspects based on evidence at the scene of a crime and by questioning eyewitnesses. Those in the public security bureau tend to have a clearer idea of the focus of investigation before they start sleuthing.
Even now, nearly a decade later, there is still apparently little cooperation between officers of the two bureaus.
This lack of cooperation in the early days of the Kunimatsu investigation appears to have hindered police officers. Criminal investigation bureau officials focused on Yoshihiro Inoue, a high-ranking Aum member, to work out what the cult was up to. Since Inoue was close to Aum founder Chizuo Matsumoto, officers investigating the Kunimatsu shooting believed Inoue was central to the case. However, senior officers in the public security bureau recalled they were not allowed to closely question Inoue.
Prior to the arrest of the four suspects, even prosecutors expressed concern about the prospect of indictments, given the paucity of evidence available. It turns out the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office was correct in its assessment.
Police officials insist, however, that they did achieve one important objective: clarifying Aum’s involvement.