National / Crime & Legal

Former defense chief Takeshi Iwaya dismisses claim he was bribed by Chinese casino hopeful

Kyodo

Former Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya on Saturday denied receiving about ¥1 million ($9,250) in cash from a Chinese gambling operator involved in a suspected casino-bribery case.

Iwaya, a ruling Liberal Democratic Party member who has a seat in the Lower House, was one of five lawmakers questioned by Tokyo prosecutors on a voluntary basis for their alleged receipt of cash from the company, 500.com Ltd.

All five lawmakers have denied the allegations.

“I never received money,” Iwaya, 62, told reporters in his constituency in Beppu, Oita Prefecture.

Another LDP member, Hiroyuki Nakamura, 58, admitted he was questioned by prosecutors and also denied receiving cash from the company. Donations from foreign nationals or foreign organizations are prohibited by the Political Funds Control Law.

The questioning came after Katsunori Nakazato, 47, who served as an adviser to the company, told investigators according to a source that he delivered some ¥1 million each to the five lawmakers around September 2017 when he handed ¥3 million in cash to Tsukasa Akimoto, 48, then an LDP lawmaker. Akimoto was arrested last month over the alleged bribery case.

According to a report on political funds, an LDP branch headed by Nakamura received ¥2 million in donations on Sept. 26, 2017, from a Sapporo-based travel agency, which had planned a casino project in Rusutsu, a village in southwest Hokkaido.

The branch also received ¥2 million in donations from a senior official of the travel firm on Oct. 2, 2017.

Of the ¥4 million, ¥1 million was donated on Oct. 5, 2017, to an LDP branch headed by Iwaya, the report showed. The Chinese company had announced it would invest in the project.

Nakamura told reporters in Hokkaido that the travel agency did not explain the ¥4 million was contributed by the Chinese firm. Iwaya also said there was no such explanation.

Nakamura said the donation to Iwaya’s side was intended to show gratitude for a lecture given at his party.

Four of the five lawmakers belong to the LDP, headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and the other is a member of the opposition Nippon Ishin no Kai, according to the investigative source.

Iwaya, Nakamura and the Nippon Ishin member, Mikio Shimoji, 58, belonged to a cross-party group of lawmakers who advocated for casino resort projects.

Japan recently legalized casinos to be operated at resorts in hopes of attracting more foreign tourists and helping to boost the economy after this year’s Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.