National / Crime & Legal

Nippon Ishin lawmaker Mikio Shimoji admits taking money in casino scandal

Kyodo

Diet member Mikio Shimoji admitted Monday that his office received ¥1 million in campaign contributions for the 2017 election from a Chinese gambling operator linked to the casino bribery scandal.

Speaking at a news conference in Naha, Shimoji said he will consider whether to resign from his political party, Nippon Ishin no Kai.

The scandal came to light after Tsukasa Akimoto, 48, a Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker who had argued for the introduction of casino resorts, was arrested in December on suspicion of receiving ¥3.7 million in bribes from Chinese company 500.com Ltd. in 2017.

A Lower House member, Shimoji, 58, is one of six lawmakers who have been questioned by Tokyo prosecutors on a voluntary basis over their alleged receipt of cash from the firm.

Shimoji is the first among them to admit to having accepted funds in the scandal. He had previously denied ever received money from the company.

Casinos were recently legalized, with the government planning to choose up to three locations for what it calls “integrated resorts” — complexes that include casinos along with hotels and conference facilities. They are expected to start operating in the mid-2020s.

Shimoji was questioned by prosecutors after Katsunori Nakazato, 47, who served as an adviser to 500.com, told investigators he had delivered around ¥1 million to each of five lawmakers around September 2017, when he handed ¥3 million in cash to Akimoto, a source close to the matter said earlier.

The Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office is investigating whether the lawmakers or their secretaries received money in violation of the political funds control law, which bans donations from foreign nationals or organizations.

The other lawmakers, including former Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya, 62, have denied the allegations.

Shimoji admitted that an employee at his office in Naha had accepted an envelope with ¥1 million around Oct. 15, 2017, from Masahiko Konno, another adviser to the company.

The money was not declared in funds and expenditure reports for campaigns or other political activities. Shimoji said, “It is something that I regret extremely.”

Shimoji, who belonged to a cross-party group of lawmakers promoting integrated resort projects, said he had never tried to persuade any government agency to favor the Chinese company.

He also said he will return the money to Konno.

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