Aum’s Hirata, Among Japan’s Most-Wanted, Surrenders in Tokyo

Makoto Hirata, a member of the Aum Shinrikyo cult that released deadly sarin gas on Tokyo subways in 1995, surrendered to police on the final day of 2011, Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported.

Hirata, 46, and fellow Aum members Katsuya Takahashi and Naoko Kikuchi were listed on a police website as Japan’s three most-wanted fugitives. Hirata was wanted in connection with the murder of a notary, while the other two are alleged to have been involved in the poison gas attacks.

Hirata turned himself in at the Marunouchi police station in central Tokyo, NHK said, citing the Metropolitan Police Department. The Aum Shinrikyo cult gave Hirata 10 million yen ($129,781) in 1995 to help him evade capture, the broadcaster reported, without saying where it got the information.

Aum Shinrikyo members released sarin gas in several Tokyo subway trains and stations on March 20, 1995, causing 12 deaths and more than 3,000 other casualties. The group is alleged to have killed 27 people in all.

The cult’s activities prompted tightened security and expanded police powers, including approval for wiretapping of phones in criminal investigations. Japan’s parliament in 1999 passed legislation allowing authorities to limit activities of Aum and to conduct surveillance and search the premises of religious cults suspected of mass murder.

Aum Renewed

Aum Shinrikyo renamed itself in an effort to create a new image under the leadership of Fumihiro Joyu, onetime Aum spokesman, who completed a three-year prison sentence in 1999.

Shoko Asahara, 56, the founder of the cult, has been on death row since he was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in February 2004 following an eight-year trial. The Tokyo District Court rejected an appeal for a retrial in March 1999, and his final appeal against the death sentence was denied in September 2006, Kyodo News has reported.

Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, is partially blind. He studied acupuncture and traditional Chinese herbal medicine before beginning to preach a mixture of Buddhist and Hindu theology mixed with his own apocalyptic ideas. His doctrine included the concept that murder may be justified and spiritually elevating for both killer and victim.