Brazil police may struggle to repatriate murdered Japanese woman

Costa, who confessed to killing Japanese woman Hitomi Akamatsu is escorted by a police officer in Abadiania
Rafael Lima da Costa, who confessed to killing Japanese woman Hitomi Akamatsu, 43, is escorted by a police officer in Abadiania, Goias state, Brazil, November 19, 2020. REUTERS/Leonardo Benassatto

November 19, 2020

ABADIANIA, Brazil (Reuters) – Brazilian police may not be able to repatriate the body of a Japanese woman who was found murdered in Brazil, where she had sought treatment at a spiritual retreat, an investigating officer said on Thursday.

Hitomi Akamatsu, 43, was found on Monday by a waterfall on a property owned by disgraced spiritual guru João Teixeira de Faria, known as “John of God.” The self-proclaimed healer, who became a celebrity after appearing on a show hosted by Oprah Winfrey, has been convicted of raping women at his retreat.

Police have arrested Rafael Lima da Costa, an 18-year-old who confessed to killing Akamatsu on Nov. 10 during a robbery. Police tracked him using security camera footage and found where he had burned clothes, according to detective Isabela Silva.

It may be difficult to send her back to Japan, Silva said.

“Due to her body being in an advanced stage of putrefaction, we don’t know if we will be able to embalm her,” Silva said.

Police said Akamatsu arrived at the ranch roughly two years ago to seek treatment for radioactive exposure she said she had gotten from Japan’s Fukushima blast. She had stayed on after John of God’s arrest and was well-known by residents in the town of Abadiânia, some 120 kilometers (75 miles) southwest of the federal capital Brasilia.

Japan’s embassy in Brazil said in a Wednesday statement that it had been informed of her death by local police on Nov. 16. Japanese diplomats said they were liaising with officials and those who needed to be alerted to her death, without giving more information.

(Reporting by Leonardo Benassatto; Writing by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Steve Orlofsky Steve Orlofsky)