National / Crime & Legal

Japanese lawmaker Tsukasa Akimoto indicted and faces fresh bribe allegation in case linked to Chinese casino firm

Kyodo

The lawmaker who spearheaded the country’s casino resort policy was indicted Tuesday on a bribery charge and served with a fresh arrest warrant for allegedly receiving more money from a Chinese gambling operator than what was already suspected.

Tsukasa Akimoto, a former member of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, was indicted on charges of receiving ¥3 million in cash at his office in Tokyo on Sept. 28, 2017, the day the House of Representatives was dissolved for a snap election.

Along with the indictment, prosecutors served him with a fresh arrest warrant for allegedly receiving an additional ¥2 million from the Chinese company, 500.com Ltd., and in recognition that his trip worth ¥1.5 million to the company’s Shenzhen headquarters in 2017 was also paid by the company and constituted bribery.

Prosecutors believe Akimoto accepted more than ¥7 million in bribes altogether, including about ¥700,000 in expenses for his family’s trip to Rusutsu, Hokkaido, in February 2018 shouldered by the company.

The 48-year-old member of the Lower House, who resigned from the ruling party following his arrest on Dec. 25, has denied any wrongdoing, saying he does not remember receiving cash and that his secretary dealt with all payments for his trips, according to a defense lawyer.

Prosecutors also indicted Akimoto’s former secretary Akihiro Toyoshima, 41, in connection with the case.

Three other people — Zheng Xi, 37, a former executive of the Chinese firm’s Japanese unit, and Masahiko Konno, 48, and Katsunori Nakazato, 47, who both served as advisers to the gambling operator — were also served with fresh arrest warrants on Tuesday.

Japan recently legalized casinos to be operated at so-called integrated resorts, also comprising hotels and conference facilities, in the hope of attracting more foreign tourists and boosting the economy after the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The Chinese company had been asking Akimoto to increase the number of planned casino resort locations in Japan to five since January 2018, around the time it expressed interest in being involved in a casino project in Hokkaido, according to sources.

Akimoto was known as a vocal supporter of legalizing casinos and was in charge of overseeing the government policy aimed at introducing the resorts when he served as a senior vice minister at the Cabinet Office for about a year through October 2018.

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