Japan Lawmaker Akimoto Arrested over Casino Bribery Affair

  • Akimoto accused of accepting cash and travel from a Chinese gambling firm
  • Christmas Day arrest of Diet member follows raids on homes of senior aides earlier in month
  • Lawmaker previously held a prominent role in Japan's ongoing casino development plans
red lights on a Japanese police car
Tsukasa Akimoto has been arrested in connection with an alleged bribery scheme by China-based online lottery giant 500.com. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Arrest imperils licensing plans

The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office in Japan has announced the arrest of parliament member Tsukasa Akimoto in connection with an alleged bribery scheme by China-based online lottery giant 500.com to obtain licensing for one of the first casinos to be built in Japan.

Akimoto, 48, is accused of accepting roughly 3.7 million Japanese yen ($34,000) from officials of 500.com, a Shengzen-based firm that also operates a number of online casinos. Three 500.com officials were also arrested. Japanese news reports name the three as Zheng Xi, 37, a 500.com executive, along with Masahiko Konno, 48, and Katsunori Nakazato, 47, listed as advisors.

Akimoto left that post in September after reports of his problematic relationships first surfaced

Akimoto’s arrest deals a blow to the ongoing plans of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to quickly launch up to three “integrated resort” casinos in Japan.

Akimoto led Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism within Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s LDP administration, a leading position for the country’s casino development plans. Akimoto left that post in September after reports of his problematic relationships first surfaced.

Akimoto is the first member of Japan’s Parliament, or Diet, to be arrested since 2010.

500.com allegedly funded trips

The bribery charges are the latest chapter in a story dating back to at least 2017. Akimoto allegedly received the bribe in September of that year, and also traveled, courtesy of 500.com, to the firm’s headquarters in China and to the Japanese island of Hokkaido, where the company hoped to secure territorial casino rights.

Earlier this month, Japanese authorities also raided the homes of two Akimoto aides. Those aides are alleged to have brought the 3.7 million yen ($34,000) into Japan, thus violating the country’s laws for transporting large sums of money.

Akimoto has since resigned from the LDP since his arrest on Wednesday, while still maintaining his innocence. Posting on Twitter, he said:

I have never been involved in wrongdoing at all. I will continue to assert that.”

Abe administration braces for setback

Meanwhile, Abe admin officials are continuing with their gambling expansion plans for Japan.

The country legalized integrated casino resorts in July 2018, despite significant pushback from anti-gambling forces.

Jun Azumi, the affairs chief of Japan’s largest opposition party, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), commented on the situation following Akimoto’s arrest. Azumi stated: “The Abe administration has been promising to revitalize regional economies through casinos, regarding casinos as a key contributor to economic revitalization, but this is far off the mark.”

Meanwhile, Abe admin official Yoshihide Suga declined to comment on Akimoto’s arrest, but said the integrated casino resort plans remain in place. According to Suga, the government “will steadily push ahead with it so that benefits from building IRs (integrated resorts) will be reaped as soon as possible.”

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