A lawmaker accused of receiving bribes from a Chinese gambling operator that aimed to enter Japan’s nascent casino market pleaded not guilty Monday in the first hearing of his trial at the Tokyo District Court.
Lower House member Tsukasa Akimoto has been indicted for receiving bribes worth ¥7.6 million from the operator 500.com Ltd. between September 2017 and February 2018, including having his travel expenses to China and Hokkaido covered.
Akimoto, 49, has also been indicted on a charge of offering money to two former advisors to 500.com in exchange for false court testimony favorable to him between June and July last year, while the lawmaker was released on bail.
Akimoto’s former state-paid secretary Akihiro Toyoshima, 42, also stood trial for the graft charge.
The House of Representatives lawmaker oversaw the government’s initiative to legalize the operation of casinos at so-called integrated resorts with hotels and conference facilities when he served as senior vice minister in the Cabinet Office for about a year from September 2017.
He left the ruling Liberal Democratic Party following his initial arrest in December 2019 for allegedly taking bribes.
In a series of trials related to the high-profile casino graft scandal, four people were found guilty for giving bribes to Akimoto and another four were also convicted in the witness tampering case in conspiracy with the lawmaker. All of their rulings have been finalized.
The government plans to pick up to three locations to host integrated resorts. Japan enacted legislation in 2018 to legalize casino gambling.
But the country’s casino project, which Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has promoted since he was chief Cabinet secretary under his predecessor Shinzo Abe, has been at a standstill due to the coronavirus pandemic.
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