Friday, October 23, 2020

Japan indicts lawmaker Tsukasa Akimoto at center of casino scandal on new bribery charges

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A lawmaker at the heart of a bribery scandal involving a Chinese gambling operator seeking to enter Japan’s forthcoming casino market was indicted Monday on a fresh bribery charge.

Tsukasa Akimoto, 48, is alleged to have received ¥2 million ($18,450) from the Chinese firm, 500.com Ltd., and had expenses of around ¥1.55 million covered by the company for a 2017 trip to its Shenzhen headquarters despite knowing it was seeking favorable treatment, according to the latest indictment.

Last month, the former member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, who had spearheaded the nation’s recent move to legalize casino resorts, was indicted for allegedly receiving ¥3 million in cash from 500.com in September 2017 and also for having the firm cover about ¥760,000 of expenses linked to a family trip to Hokkaido in February 2018.

It is hoped that the legalization of such resorts in Japan will attract more foreign tourists and invigorate the economy after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, Hokkaido was one candidate to host a casino resort, but in late November, Hokkaido Gov. Naomichi Suzuki said the prefecture would not pursue an immediate bid to construct such a facility due to local concern about the project’s environmental impact.

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Akimoto has denied any wrongdoing. Regarding the latest charge, he said the ¥2 million was remuneration for giving speeches and that he had instructed his secretary to oversee payment of the costs for the China trip, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The House of Representatives member was the first incumbent Japanese lawmaker to be indicted in a decade. Three others have been indicted in the case — Zheng Xi, 37, a former executive of the Chinese firm’s Japan unit, along with Masahiko Konno, 48, and Katsunori Nakazato, 47, who both served as advisers to the gambling operator. They have all admitted to bribing the Diet member.

Akimoto was known as a vocal supporter of legalizing casinos and was in charge of overseeing the initiative when he served as a senior vice minister at the Cabinet Office for about a year through October 2018.

He was first elected to the House of Councilors in 2004, after serving as a secretary to a lawmaker. In 2012, he successfully ran for a seat in the House of Representatives.

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