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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Police Arrest Aum's 'Justice Minister'

TOKYO -- Japanese police on Wednesday arrested one of the most prominent members of the doomsday cult being investigated over the Tokyo subway gas attacks, a police spokesman said.


Officers seized Yoshinobu Aoyama, 35, the sect's top lawyer and reportedly head of its "Justice Ministry," part of a mock government set up within the secretive cult.


Aoyama had made frequent television appearances in recent weeks to declare the innocence of Aum Shinrikyo, or Supreme Truth, often alongside cult spokesman Fumihiro Joyu.


The lawyer was held on charges of libeling a fertilizer company located near one of the sect's compounds near the foot of Mount Fuji. In January, he held a news conference at which he accused the company of spraying the cult commune with sarin, the nerve gas used in the March subway gassing.


Aoyama was arrested after police found that the fertilizer company could not have produced the poisons Aoyama accused it of spraying, a Tokyo Metropolitan Police spokesman said. Officials of the company had filed a slander complaint in February.


Police have arrested more than 150 cult members since the March 20 attack which left 12 people dead, but almost all have been on minor charges.


Authorities have not stated a direct link between the cult and the attack, but claim to have found tons of chemicals and sophisticated equipment on cult property that could be used to produce the deadly nerve gas.


Aoyama, a graduate of Japan's elite Kyoto University law school, was arrested at Tokyo's Arakawa police station when he went there to visit a sect member in custody. As the top lawyer, he was overseeing dozens of legal battles the cult is fighting across the country over everything from alleged kidnappings to complaints about land deals.