• Kyodo

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A lawmaker who was found guilty of receiving bribes linked to the government's project to build casino resorts in Japan said Thursday he was wrongly convicted and that the jail term he received earlier this week was unacceptable.

"The case was a false accusation made up by prosecutors. (The ruling) is totally unacceptable," said Tsukasa Akimoto, former Liberal Democratic Party member who is on bail, having been sentenced to four years in prison by the Tokyo District Court on Tuesday.

Akimoto, who left the ruling party after his arrest in December 2019, told a news conference he intends to stand in the next Lower House election to be held by November. His defense team appealed the ruling on Tuesday.

"I want the high court to judge without any preconceptions," Akimoto said. He was taken to the Tokyo Detention House after the ruling, but his lawyers immediately requested bail and the court accepted it.

"I want to prepare for the next election while the high court proceeds with my case," Akimoto said.

The district court ordered Akimoto, 49, to pay fines of about ¥7.6 million, an amount equal to the bribes he was found guilty of receiving between September 2017 and February 2018 from a Chinese gambling operator aiming to enter Japan's casino market.

Akimoto oversaw the government's initiative to legalize the operation of casinos at so-called integrated resorts, which also house hotels and conference facilities, when he served as senior vice minister in the Cabinet Office for about a year from September 2017.

The court also found Akimoto guilty of offering money to two former advisers to the Chinese firm 500.com in exchange for giving false court testimony favorable to him between June and July last year, when the House of Representatives lawmaker was released on bail.

The court's decision came as a further blow to the government already facing criticism over a series of scandals involving top government officials ahead of the general election this year.

Former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai, his wife Anri and former trade minister Isshu Sugawara — all of whom belonged to the LDP — have been convicted this year in separate election fraud cases.

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