Aum fugitive gives up, denies shooting police chief

January 02, 2012

Makoto Hirata, a former bodyguard of Aum Shinrikyo founder and convicted mass murderer Chizuo Matsumoto, turned himself in to a Tokyo police station after 16 years on the run, police said.

Hirata, 46, had been on the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department's wanted list since May 1995 on suspicion of abducting and confining a Tokyo notary who was murdered by the cult.

Hirata said he wanted to clear his name in the attempted murder of Takaji Kunimatsu, then chief of the National Police Agency, who was shot several times near his home in Tokyo on March 30, 1995.

"I decided that I wanted to turn myself in as soon as possible because the statute of limitations (for the Kunimatsu shooting) had expired and there was no way now that I would be arrested for a mistaken cause," Hirata, once a senior cultist known for his shooting skills, said in a statement Jan. 2 through his lawyer.

He also said his surrender "was delayed due to various circumstances."

"I rethought about my standing after having witnessed many unreasonable things happening following the (March 11) disaster in the Tohoku region. I really wanted to turn myself in during 2011," he said in the statement.

According to police, a man identifying himself as Hirata entered the Marunouchi police station late on Dec. 31. He was arrested on Jan. 1 after police confirmed his identity by checking his fingerprints.

He has denied some of the allegations against him.

Hirata's arrest leaves two former senior Aum members on the wanted list--Katsuya Takahashi, 53, and Naoko Kikuchi, 40--who are suspected of murder in the March 20, 1995, sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system.

Hirata said nothing about the two. He also declined to go into detail about his life as a fugitive, police said.

Hirata's surrender came after a series of trials for Aum's crime spree in the 1990s ended in late 2011, resulting in death sentences against 13.

Hirata was wearing a down jacket, jeans and sneakers when he entered the police station. He was carrying tens of thousands of yen in cash, extra clothes, underwear, shampoo, and a comb in his backpack, according to police.

There were no signs he underwent plastic surgery, and his body shape has not changed much since he was put on the wanted list in 1995, police said.

Tokyo police suspect Hirata served as a lookout when several Aum members abducted the notary, Kiyoshi Kariya, 68, by pushing him into a rented van in Tokyo's Shinagawa Ward in February 1995.

Hirata sped away in a rented passenger car near the scene of the abduction, police said.

The Aum members allegedly conspired to abduct Kariya to find his sister, a former cultist who had fled from the group's compound.

The cultists injected Kariya with chemicals in an attempt to get him to talk, but he died.

Hirata is also suspected of involvement in incinerating Kariya's body at the doomsday cult's compound in Kamikuishiki, Yamanashi Prefecture.

In addition, Hirata was wanted in connection with an explosive that was placed near the apartment of a religious scholar who was writing a critical essay about the cult on the night of March 19, 1995. That was the day before cultists released sarin on morning rush hour subway trains in Tokyo that killed 12 and sickened thousands.

Police believe Hirata placed the explosive along with Yoshihiro Inoue, 42, who has been sentenced to death for his role in the sarin attack and nine other crimes.

After the sarin attack, Hirata apparently holed up in a rented apartment in Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture, in late March, with Inoue, who headed Aum's intelligence unit at that time, and other members.

Hirata then moved among acquaintances' homes in Tokushima and Mie prefectures, as well as the cult's facilities in Tokyo and Yamanashi Prefecture, between late March and late April that year.

Police established that Hirata later met up with another senior cultist, Yasuo Hayashi, in Nagoya. But his whereabouts after that meeting remain unknown.

Hayashi, 54, was also sentenced to death for his involvement in the Tokyo sarin attack and two other crimes.

Hirata was born and raised in Hokkaido.

After graduating from a college in Sapporo in 1987, he landed a job in Tokyo, but quit soon afterward.

He joined Aum and began living in a cult facility in August 1987. Given his height, at more than 180 centimeters, and his shooting skills, he became a guard for guru Matsumoto, who was more widely known as Shoko Asahara at the time.

Matsumoto's death sentence has also been finalized.

Hirata took part in an air rifle contest in an interscholastic athletic meet in 1982 when he was attending senior high school in Sapporo.

He and other Aum members are known to have visited Russia in April 1994 to take shooting lessons.

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Makoto Hirata, a former Aum Shinrikyo member, center, slumps forward in a police car in Tokyo on Jan. 1. (Teruo Kashiyama)

Makoto Hirata, a former Aum Shinrikyo member, center, slumps forward in a police car in Tokyo on Jan. 1. (Teruo Kashiyama)

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  • Makoto Hirata, a former Aum Shinrikyo member, center, slumps forward in a police car in Tokyo on Jan. 1. (Teruo Kashiyama)
  • Makoto Hirata (National Police Agency)
  • The photo of Makoto Hirata's face on a wanted poster is covered with a message expressing appreciation for the public's cooperation. (Hikaru Uchida)

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