National / Crime & Legal

Office of LDP's Tsukasa Akimoto raided over ties to Chinese casino-linked firm

Kyodo, JIJI

Public prosecutors raided the constituency office of a ruling party lawmaker Thursday over his alleged ties with a Chinese company that is interested in joining a casino project but is also suspected of violating the foreign exchange law.

The 48-year-old lawmaker, Tsukasa Akimoto, is a member of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party and has been a vocal supporter of the introduction of casino resorts to Japan.

His parliamentary and constituency offices were raided by members of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors’s Office special investigation squad in connection with the Chinese company.

Akimoto was in charge of developing the government’s so-called integrated resort project policy that will allow casinos to be opened in the country as part of resorts with large hotel and conference facilities. He oversaw the policy from August 2017 to October 2018 as a senior vice minister at the Cabinet Office.

Japan has recently legalized casino resorts. The government plans to choose up to three locations for the complexes that are expected to start operating in the mid-2020s.

The Chinese company, headquartered in Shenzhen, runs online casinos and a sports betting business among other ventures and is suspected of bringing several million yen in cash into Japan from overseas without prior notice.

The foreign exchange law bans any person from carrying more than ¥1 million in cash into the country without informing customs authorities.

Since setting up a Japan unit in July 2017, the company has reached out to Akimoto, who was first elected to the House of Councilors in 2004 after serving as a secretary to a lawmaker, according to sources familiar with the matter.

In 2012, Akimoto successfully ran for a seat in the House of Representatives.

Earlier this month, members of the Tokyo prosecutors’ special investigation squad raided the homes of two of Akimoto’s former secretaries over their ties to the company.

The prosecutors have also questioned Akimoto on a voluntary basis, according to the sources.

Akimoto has denied any wrongdoing, telling reporters on Dec. 9 that he had “nothing to do with this.”

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

The Chinese company was planning to open a casino resort in the village of Rusutsu in Hokkaido. A senior official from the company visited the village.

The Hokkaido Prefectural Government chose the city of Tomakomai as a top candidate to host a resort, but announced last month that it will not seek to become a venue for such a facility.

The special squad is currently investigating how and why the cash was brought into Japan, and possible links between the money and the firm’s casino business, by using related documents provided by the Hokkaido government and conducting interviews with Rusutsu government personnel.