• Kyodo

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Two former advisers to a Chinese gambling operator seeking to enter Japan’s nascent casino market were found guilty Monday of bribing a Japanese lawmaker.

The Tokyo District Court sentenced Masahiko Konno, 49, to two years in prison, suspended for three years, and Katsunori Nakazato, 48, to a year and 10 months, also suspended for three years, according to the ruling.

The two men were associated with 500.com Ltd., a Chinese firm that was lobbying for a casino license under the liberalized gambling laws in Japan.

Konno and Nakazato gave Tsukasa Akimoto, a 48-year-old former member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, a total of ¥7.6 million in bribes between 2017 and 2018, including covering travel expenses to China and Hokkaido.

Konno and Nakazato were given information on the gambling legislation “as a result of extravagant wining and dining” of Akimoto, presiding Judge Toshihiko Niwa said in handing down the ruling.

They “severely undermined the impartiality of duties and public trust in a large-scale project promoted by the government,” Niwa said.

The defendants’ lawyers had called for leniency as the Chinese company dropped its bid to enter Japan’s casino business and the bribes had no actual impact on a project.

Akimoto oversaw the government’s initiative to legalize the operation of casinos at so-called integrated resorts with hotels and conference facilities while holding the post of senior vice minister in the Cabinet Office for about a year from September 2017.

The House of Representatives member left the LDP before his initial arrest in December for taking bribes in connection with the casino graft scandal.

Last month, Akimoto, who resumed political activities after his release on bail in February, was also indicted on a charge of offering money to Konno and Nakazato in exchange for false court testimony favorable to him.

The casino project, which Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has backed since his time as chief Cabinet secretary under his predecessor Shinzo Abe, remains at a standstill due to the coronavirus pandemic, with the government postponing accepting bids from local governments to host casino resorts.

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