Doomsday cult leader Shoko Asahara was formally charged today with murder and attempted murder in Japan’s “crime of the century” - the deadly nerve-gassing of the Tokyo subway.
After three weeks of police detention and questioning, prosecutors asked the Tokyo District Court to try the bearded, partially blind guru in the March 20 subway attack, which killed 12 people and sickened more than 5,000, media reports said.
Japanese authorities rarely bring charges without an extremely strong case against a suspect.
The conviction rate in cases that come to trial is 99 percent.
The case has captured public attention in Japan like no other crime in memory.
Thousands of hours of television coverage and hundreds of pages of newsprint have been devoted to it. Word of the charges against Asahara was a news flash on nationwide TV.
The subway attack was a national trauma, shattering Japan’s cozy illusions of safety.
And it has set off soulsearching about some of the country’s most closely held values, like conformity and unquestioning loyalty to a group.
Under Japanese law, a murder conviction can carry a maximum sentence of life in prison or death. Legal experts say they expect Asahara’s trial to drag on for at least a year, probably much longer.
Police had been interrogating Asahara, 40, since they seized him May 16 at the Aum Shinri Kyo cult’s mountain stronghold.
The arrest capped weeks of nationwide raids on cult facilities, and marked the culmination of the biggest criminal investigation in Japan’s history.