Japan’s widening casino bribery scandal just got worse as news that the senior ruling lawmaker at the heart of the case was indicted on a new charge hit the headlines earlier today.
According to the latest of a series of indictments, former Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) member Tsukasa Akimoto allegedly received JPY2 million from Chinese online sports lottery firm 500.com, despite being well aware of the fact that the company was seeking preferential treatment in Japan’s casino bidding process.
The indictment reads further that the lawmaker took a trip to 500.com’s Shenzhen headquarters in late 2017, the expenses for which – around JPY1.55 million – were covered by the gambling company.
500.com opened a Japanese office in the summer of 2017 and partnered a local tourism agency shortly after that to jointly explore opportunities to build an integrated casino resort in the Hokkaido province.
As part of a complex process for the legalization and introduction of casinos within larger integrated resorts, the Japanese government plans to issue up to three gaming licenses.
Mr. Akimoto, who up until October 2018 served as Senior Vice Minister in charge of drafting the policy paving the way for the introduction of integrated casino resorts, was arrested on December 25, 2019 on suspicion of taking bribes from 500.com to spearhead the gambling firm’s bid at winning a casino license.
The embattled lawmaker has denied any wrongdoing.
Mr. Akimoto Accepted Luxury Goods from 500.com during Macau Trip
Japanese news outlets reported last week that Mr. Akimoto accepted luxury items purchased by 500.com during a trip he took to Macau in late 2017. He visited the Chinese special administrative region to inspect one of its many casinos. The trip to Macau took place as part of the lawmaker’s visit to 500.com’s corporate headquarters.
At a shopping mall in Macau, Mr. Akimoto allegedly accepted luxury items that 500.com purchased for him. The lawmaker admitted to taking the items and told investigators that he was going to buy the items that were worth more than JPY100,000 himself, but the 500.com side insisted on paying for those.
Mr. Akimoto further noted that it was “within the scope of commonly accepted social norms” to accept the items from his hosts.
As mentioned earlier, Mr. Akimoto was arrested on December 25 and the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office has leveled multiple charges against him since then. According to previous indictments, the lawmaker received JPY3 million in cash from 500.com in September 2017 and was treated to a family trip to Hokkaido in February 2018, the expenses for which – JPY760,000 – were covered by the Chinese gambling firm.
Of its latest indictment, Mr. Akimoto told investigators that the JPY2 million he received was remuneration for delivering speeches during events organized/sponsored by 500.com. The lawmaker also said that he had instructed his secretary to ensure that the costs for his trip to China and Macau were covered by his side.
Mr. Akimoto is the first incumbent lawmaker to be indicted in Japan in more than a decade.
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