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Thursday, March 20, 2008
Aum's bankruptcy proceedings to end 13 years on
By JUN HONGO
The bankruptcy proceedings for Aum Shinrikyo will conclude on March 26 even though the doomsday cult will pay only 40 percent of the ¥3.8 billion owed to victims of the crimes it committed more than a decade ago.
Lawyer Saburo Abe, who was appointed by the court to manage Aum's assets in 1996, told reporters Wednesday at the Tokyo District Court that the bankruptcy process has reached its limit because of the size of Aum's huge debts.
According to Abe, the cult still owes roughly ¥5.1 billion.
Disbursements will end once the final round of payment is distributed to about 1,200 victims starting in June, bringing the total amount to ¥1.5 billion.
"We've done everything we can. We must ask for assistance from the government from this point on," Abe said.
The announcement came a day before the 13th anniversary of the sarin attack on the Tokyo subway system on March 20, 1995. The gassing left 12 people dead and some 5,500 wounded.
The conclusion of the bankruptcy proceedings, however, could trigger a new phase of litigation in the form of compensation claims against the cult, or against the government in lieu of the cult.
At the 16th and final meeting of the victims' and cult's representatives on March 26, Judge Kenji Nishi of the Tokyo District Court will issue instructions on the conditions for closing the bankruptcy proceedings, including details on how Aum's claimable assets will be managed in the future.
Abe and the victims have urged the government to establish a special law that would provide financial support to Aum's victims.
Shizue Takahashi, who lost her husband in the subway attack, criticized the government for not providing aid to the victims and their families over the past 13 years.
"Although the state has the obligation to ensure the safety of its people, the government has not provided any help to us," Takahashi, the representative of Aum's victims, said at a news conference with Abe.
Kazuo Asakawa, whose sister, Sachiko, was found in cardiopulmonary arrest at Nakano-Sakaue Station on the Marunouchi Line and is now paralyzed, also complained about the lack of government support.
"While (the Aum members) are being provided care (via the judicial process), my sister and other victims are being abandoned. It is not rational," Asakawa said.
The Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling coalition has set up project teams to explore ways of aiding the victims, examining different compensation amounts and the criteria to be met.
In February, the Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition force, submitted a bill to the Diet that would oblige the state to pay redress on behalf of Aum.
"The lobbying process is just beginning, and we must keep moving forward," Takahashi told reporters.
In addition to the Tokyo subway attack, several Aum members were convicted for killing seven people in a sarin gassing in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, in 1994, as well as the murder of lawyer Yokohama Tsutsumi Sakamoto and his family in 1989.
Several cultists, including founder Shoko Asahara, have been sentenced to death.
Following the arrest of Asahara and other key members, Aum was declared bankrupt in 1996.
Abe was then named the trustee and appointed to collect the cult's assets to provide redress to its victims.
Aum renamed itself Aleph in 2000.