Woman arrested for harboring AUM fugitive says they tried to blend into city crowds

Japan - A woman under arrest for harboring former senior AUM Shinrikyo cult member Makoto Hirata has told investigators that they attempted to melt into the crowd in big cities in an attempt to hide from police, investigative sources said.

"We tried to melt into big cities and hide," Akemi Saito, 49, also a former cult member, was quoted as telling investigators during questioning. "I thought we'd be unlikely to be noticed because there are so many people in big cities."

The pair disappeared from Sendai in February 1996 as the police dragnet was getting close to them. The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) suspects that they fled to Osaka where it was easier to blend into the crowd.

Saito is believed to have worked at a Japanese restaurant in Sendai under a false name from November 1995 to February 1996, and lived at an apartment complex for its employees with Hirata, 46, according to the sources.

MPD investigators spotted Saito in Tokyo on Feb. 15, 1996 and tailed her, but lost sight of her near JR Shinjuku Station. The following day, she tendered her resignation to the operator of the Sendai restaurant and disappeared while leaving two pairs of bedding and other belongings at her apartment. Investigators suspect that she noticed she was tailed by the investigators in Tokyo.

Lawyer Taro Takimoto who accompanied Saito as she turned herself in to the MPD quoted her as telling him, "Whenever we felt people around us might notice our identities, we moved to another place and changed our false names."

The apartment in Higashi-Osaka, where she had been living until recently, was rented by an osteopathy clinic where she had worked under a false name.

Hirata, wanted for his alleged role in the abduction of the chief clerk of a notary public's office, resulting in the victim's death, turned himself in to the MPD on New Year's Eve after spending nearly 17 years as a fugitive. He was arrested the following day.