National / Crime & Legal

Bail OK'd for Lower House lawmaker Tsukasa Akimoto as Japan casino scandal brews; prosecutors appeal

JIJI, Kyodo

The Tokyo District Court on Monday approved the release on bail of Lower House lawmaker Tsukasa Akimoto, who has been indicted on bribe-taking charges related to casino resorts.

The bail was set at ¥30 million, which Akimoto paid the same day. Public prosecutors filed an appeal against the court decision, and Akimoto will not be released until the appeal is processed.

He has categorically denied the charges while expressing his intention to attend Diet meetings once he is freed on bail. He will be allowed to take part in debates as long as he does not violate the bail terms, according to sources.

Under the terms, the 48-year-old House of Representatives member is barred from contacting fellow lawmaker Takaki Shirasuka of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, and former Lower House member Shigeaki Katsunuma.

The two joined Akimoto on an inspection tour of a Macau casino hosted by Chinese online lottery operator 500.com Ltd., which planned to join an integrated resort project in Japan. They are also suspected of being linked to the scandal.

Akimoto is suspected of demanding luxury items from the Chinese company during a trip to Macao, investigative sources said earlier.

Akimoto was known as a vocal supporter of casino legalization and was in charge of overseeing the initiative when he was senior vice minister at the Cabinet Office for about a year through October 2018.

Akimoto is alleged to have received ¥2 million from the Chinese firm and had expenses of around ¥1.55 million covered by the company for a 2017 trip to its Shenzhen headquarters, despite knowing such actions could be considered as seeking favorable treatment.

In addition, he allegedly received ¥3 million in cash from 500.com in September 2017 and allegedly had the firm cover about ¥760,000 in expenses linked to a family trip to Hokkaido in February 2018.

He left the LDP when he was first arrested late last December but remains a member of the Lower House.

Akimoto is barred from having contact with five lawmakers in total that 500.com claims to have given ¥1 million each. Among them is former postal privatization minister Mikio Shimoji, who was expelled from opposition party Nippon Ishin no Kai after his alleged receipt of the money came to light.

Three others indicted in the case include Zheng Xi, 37, a former executive of 500.com‘s Japan unit, and Masahiko Konno, 48, and Katsunori Nakazato, 47, who were advisers.

All admitted to bribing Akimoto. Xi and Konno have been released on bail and Nakazato is awaiting release after having his bail approved.

Akimoto is the first lawmaker indicted in a decade. He was first elected to the House of Councilors in 2004 after serving as secretary to a lawmaker. He won his Lower House seat in 2012.