National / Crime & Legal

Japan ruling party lawmaker quizzed over ties to Chinese firm with eye on Hokkaido casino

Kyodo

Prosecutors have questioned a ruling party lawmaker over his alleged ties with a Chinese company that showed interest in joining a casino project and is suspected of violating the foreign exchange law, sources close to the matter said Wednesday.

Tsukasa Akimoto, 48, a House of Representatives member of the Liberal Democratic Party, was interviewed on a voluntary basis by the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office in connection with the Chinese company, which allegedly brought into Japan a large amount of cash without notifying customs authorities, the sources said.

Akimoto is a leading promoter of casino resorts, which have been recently legalized in Japan. He was in charge of a so-called integrated resort project involving a large hotel and conference facilities in addition to a casino from August 2017 to October 2018 as a senior vice minister at the Cabinet Office.

Members of the Tokyo prosecutors’ special investigation squad have raided the homes of two former secretaries of Akimoto over their ties with the company, which is based in Shenzhen in China’s Guangdong province and runs online casinos and a sports betting business among other ventures, the sources said.

The Chinese company’s Japan unit, which was established in July 2017, is suspected of bringing in several million yen in cash from overseas without prior notice. The foreign exchange law bans bringing in cash exceeding ¥1 million ($9,137) without informing customs authorities.

Violators of the law face a fine of up to ¥500,000 or imprisonment for a maximum of six months.

In August 2017, Akimoto gave a speech at a symposium on integrated resorts in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, where the chief of the Chinese company also delivered an address.

The lawmaker has denied any wrongdoing, telling reporters Dec. 9 that he had “nothing to do with this,” after prosecutors raided the homes of his former secretaries.

The Chinese company was interested in a casino resort project in Hokkaido, according to the sources. But the local government said in late November that it would not pursue an immediate bid to construct a casino resort due to concerns about the project’s environmental impact.

Prosecutors have also questioned on a voluntary basis senior officials of the village of Rusutsu in Hokkaido, formerly one of the candidate sites for hosting a casino resort. The Hokkaido and Rusutsu governments have also submitted documents related to the casino project to prosecutors, the sources said.

An integrated resort incorporates facilities such as shopping malls, theaters, hotels and theme parks. Up to three such resorts are expected to start operating in the mid-2020s.

Akimoto was first elected to the House of Councilors in 2004 after serving as a secretary for former Lower House member Koki Kobayashi. In 2012, he successfully ran for a seat in the lower chamber from a Tokyo constituency.

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