National / Crime & Legal

Japanese lawmaker held in casino bribery scandal allegedly demanded luxury goods from Chinese firm

JIJI

Lower House member Tsukasa Akimoto, who has been arrested for alleged bribery over a casino resort project, is suspected of demanding luxury items from a Chinese company at the center of the scandal, sources have said.

Akimoto, 48, visited Macao in late December 2017 at the invitation of the company, 500.com, to inspect a casino there.

At a shopping mall in Macao during the trip, Akimoto asked the 500.com side to buy some products for him, the sources said.

During questioning by the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office’s special investigation team, Akimoto admitted accepting the items from the company, the sources said.

“I was going to buy the items, worth more than ¥100,000 in total, myself, but the 500.com side paid for them. This was within the scope of commonly accepted social norms,” Akimoto was quoted as telling the investigators.

The special investigation team is believed to be speeding up its probe of the suspected bribery case ahead of the deadline for the detention of Akimoto on Monday.

The investigation squad arrested Akimoto — a former Cabinet Office state minister in charge of the government’s initiative to launch casino resorts — in late December for allegedly accepting ¥3.7 million in bribes, including ¥3 million in cash, from Shenzhen-based 500.com, an online lottery operator that was planning to join a casino project in Japan. He has been indicted over the allegations.

Akimoto was served a fresh arrest warrant in mid-January on suspicion of having 500.com bear the costs worth about ¥1.5 million for the Macao trip, including accommodation expenses, and receiving ¥2 million by bank transfer from the firm in early September 2017.

Akimoto has denied the charges, saying he instructed a secretary to ensure that the travel costs would be paid for by his side. He has also claimed that the ¥2 million was not a bribe, saying the money was remitted to a bank account of a Tokyo-based entertainment firm set up by his former policy secretary, Akihiro Toyoshima, 41, who has been indicted without arrest for allegedly taking bribes.

During the travel to Macao, Akimoto also inspected a casino that was being constructed by a firm unrelated to 500.com. The special team has searched a Japanese unit of this company in relation to the bribery scandal.