Japanese guru accused over lawyer's murder

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The Independent Online


Shoko Asahara, the guru of Japan's Aum Shinri Kyo cult, yesterday had the murder of Tsutsumi Sakamoto, a Yokohama lawyer, his wife, Satoko, and their one-year-old son added to the list of 20 killings he has been accused of ordering.

After two days of digging, 1,000 police and forensic experts found what they were looking for earlier this week: bones and fragments of hair and skin in two burial spots in the remote mountains of central Japan. The remains were confirmed as belonging to the Sakamotos, who went missing in November 1989 after the lawyer became involved with a group of families campaigning against the cult.

The story of the Sakamotos attracted public attention, both for its brutality, and for what it shows about the Japanese police and their astonishingly slow reaction to the threat from Aum Shinri Kyo.

Suspicion fell on the cult after the family's disappearance in November 1989. Sakamoto was representing families who claimed the cult was holding their children by force.

According to alleged confessions, a team of six strangled the father, mother and baby, and injected them with lethal potassium chloride. Their teeth were smashed with hammers to prevent identification from dental records and, allegedly on the orders of Mr Asahara, they were buried in the mountains.

Within three months, the police received an anonymous letter implicating the cult, and providing information about the location of the bodies. They traced it to Kazuaki Okazaki, a former cult leader, and questioned him in vain for 10 days.

It was only after the Tokyo sarin-gas attack and the huge police operation it triggered that police questioned Mr Okazaki again, and corroborated his eventual confession with those of other arrested cultists.