The senior Japanese ruling party lawmaker who got arrested in a widening bribery scandal accepted luxury items from a Chinese gambling company during his trip to Macau, which he made at the said company’s invitation in late 2017, Japanese news outlets report.
Tsukasa Akimoto, a former member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, was arrested late last year on suspicion of accepting bribes from Chinese online sports lottery operator 500.com to spearhead the company’s bid to win a casino license in Japan.
Mr. Akimoto was invited to visit 500.com’s corporate headquarters in Shenzhen, China in December 2017 and during that trip, he also visited a casino in Macau.
At a shopping mall in Macau, Mr. Akimoto allegedly asked the 500.com side to buy some items for him. The lawmaker admitted to accepting the items from the company during questioning by the special investigation team of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office.
According to a source familiar with the case quoted by local media, Mr. Akimoto told investigators he “was going to buy the items, worth more than JPY100,000 in total, [himself], but the 500.com side paid for them” and that “this was within the scope of commonly accepted social norms.”
The lawmaker, who previously served as a senior vice minister in charge of the creation of a policy for the introduction of integrated casino resorts in Japan, was arrested on December 25. He was served a fresh arrest warrant in mid-January for taking bribes in the form of cash and trips to several locations worth more than JPY10 million from 500.com.
The Chinese gambling firm opened an office in Japan in the summer of 2017 and then formed a partnership with a travel agency to jointly pursue a casino license to build an integrated resort with a gaming facility in Hokkaido.
Maintaining His Innocence
Mr. Akimoto has been maintaining his innocence since the day he was arrested, although more and more evidence that he was involved in a bribery scheme has been turning up every day.
According to investigators, Mr. Akimoto received JPY2 million in cash from 500.com in September 2017 to allegedly finance his campaign ahead of the snap election called by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
It is also understood that 500.com covered the costs for his trip to China worth about JPY1.5 million as well as for a trip the lawmaker and his family took to Hokkaido in February 2018.
Mr. Akimoto denied the allegations leveled against him, saying that he instructed his secretary to ensure that all travel costs would be paid for by his side.
He also told investigators that the JPY2 million he received from the gambling firm was not a bribe and that the money was remitted to a bank account of a Tokyo-based entertainment company that was managed by his former policy secretary Akihiro Toyoshima, who was indicted without arrest for his participation in the bribery scheme.
During his visit to Macau, Mr. Akimoto inspected a casino that was owned and operated by a gambling company unrelated to 500.com.
It emerged late last month that the special investigation team of the Tokyo District Prosecutor’s Office has searched the Japanese unit of the Macau casino operator in relation to the bribery case.
According to sources, investigators have raided the Tokyo office of Melco Resorts & Entertainment, one of the major international companies interested in building an integrated resort in Japan.
The widening bribery scandal has caused public support for Japan’s casino introduction effort to wane with backing for bringing gambling venues on the territory of the country as low as 30% in some recently conducted polls.
The case has also forced lawmakers to push back a final vote on the basic policy for the selection of the host cities for up to three integrated casino resorts to February.
Lawmakers were expected to vote on the measure last month, but the process was delayed because the government wanted to add strict anti-corruption provisions to prevent any future scandals from hampering the introduction of casino-style gaming in Japan.