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Page last updated at 05:34 GMT, Tuesday, 24 April 2007 06:34 UK

The 'beast with a human face'

By Chris Summers
BBC News

A Japanese businessman has been convicted of abducting British woman Lucie Blackman. Joji Obara, who has also been convicted of killing Australian Carita Ridgway and eight other rapes, was described in court as a "beast with a human face".

Joji Obara
Joji Obara lost much of his wealth in Japan's recession

Between 1992 and 2000, Joji Obara attacked a number of women, drugging them before raping them and, in the case of Carita Ridgway, killing them.

He was earlier cleared of killing Lucie Blackman, but on appeal, Tokyo's High Court has now found him guilty of her kidnap and of mutilating and concealing her body.

A wealthy property developer, who had inherited much of his money from his father, Obara had hit hard times during Japan's recession in the early 1990s.

Whether his money troubles led to a personality change is unclear but they certainly coincided with his crimes.

Money laundering

As his money troubles mounted Obara apparently became indebted to Japan's second largest yakuza, or mafia clan, the Sumiyoshi-rengo.

Aftermath of the assassination of a Sumiyoshi boss in Tokyo
The Sumiyoshi-rengo were involved in a yakuza gang war earlier this year

He was used by them to launder money through his property business and as a result he came under their aegis.

Earlier this year a gang war in Tokyo claimed at least one life after the Sumiyoshi fought off attempts by their arch-rivals, the Yamaguchi-gumi, to muscle in on lucrative Tokyo business, including the hostess club industry.

Obara was born in Osaka in 1952 to Korean immigrant parents. His father was an entrepreneur who built his fortune on taxis, property and pachinko, the addictive arcade games beloved of so many Japanese.

Expensive education

He paid for his son to have an expensive private education and Obara went on to a prestigious university in Tokyo, where he studied politics and law.

When Obara was 17, his father died - possibly at the hands of the yakuza - and he shared his inheritance with his brothers.

For some years Obara lived the life of a playboy and enjoyed driving Ferraris, Aston Martins and a Rolls-Royce and spending millions of yen in swanky Tokyo hostess clubs.

But his depraved sexual behaviour gradually manifested itself.

Police take Lucie's remains away from the cave
Lucie's dismembered remains were found in a cave

He developed a fetish for sex with women who were unconscious or were feigning death.

Following his arrest police would find about 200 sex videos involving Obara.

One of the prosecutors at his trial described him as a "beast with a human face".

Obara always claimed he paid girls who were willing to act out his fantasy but in many cases he drugged girls before raping them.

Several of his victims had reported incidents to police but no action was taken.

The Blackman family believe Obara's behaviour towards some of the Roppongi girls may have been covered up by those in the industry and even the police.

Convincing liar

In 1992 one of his victims died, but Obara was able to get away with it in an act of astonishing and callous bravado.

Carita Ridgway, an Australian, was taken to hospital by Obara after apparently suffering food poisoning from some shellfish.

Carita Ridgway
Carita Ridgway was drugged and raped in 1992

The medical authorities accepted Obara's story and cited liver failure as her cause of death. He was so convincing that when Carita's parents flew to Tokyo they shook his hand and thanked him for the way he had cared for their daughter in her final hours.

In the summer of 2000 he met Lucie at a club in Tokyo's Roppongi district.

Obara has admitted spending the day of 1 July 2000 with her but has always denied having anything to do with her death.

Her father, Tim, does not believe Obara's story. He believes Obara probably offered money and gifts to Lucie in an attempt to persuade her to meet him away from the relatively safe environment of the club.

Mr Blackman thinks the trump card which Obara may have used to finally lure Lucie was a Japanese mobile phone.

"Japanese mobile phones are very hard to get hold of for foreigners as you really have to be a Japanese citizen. We think that Obara probably had a supply of these phones which he offered to give to girls like Lucie, who were desperate to stay in contact with their friends in Tokyo," he said.

Homeless people in Japan during the recession
Obara's fortune collapsed during the Japanese recession

In October 2000 Japanese police raided Obara's homes in and around Tokyo after he was named by several women who had reported waking up in a drugged state at his apartment.

Detectives found hundreds of sex videos as well as chloroform, piles of diaries and documents and also the body of his German shepherd dog in the refrigerator, surrounded by roses.

During his trial the businessman, who has been in custody since October 2000, sought to besmirch Lucie's character.

He claimed she was lonely, in debt and using marijuana at the time of her death and he sought to use excerpts from her diary to back up his case, which were also published on a website called "The Truth About Lucie's Case".

Obara painted a picture of Ms Blackman as a young woman who was out of control.

Bankrupt

Lucie's father, Tim, said Obara was lying about his daughter using drugs and he said it was deeply hurtful hearing personal details from the diary being read out.

Joji Obara in court
Obara showed little emotion as he was sentenced to life

While he was in jail Obara was declared bankrupt with debts of 122m (23.8 billion yen).

He is destined to spend many years in prison despite a judge saying there was still not enough evidence to prove he raped and murdered Lucie.

But Tim Blackman says he does not even feel hatred.

He said: "Every feeling I have had has been towards Lucie and I don't really have any left to feel towards Obara. Sophie feels the same and it's because we have had such an intense involvement with her loss, we have exhausted our emotions. There is nothing left to feel."



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