Former Gaming Company Advisors Admit to Bribing Japanese Lawmaker for Casino License

  • Advisors to 500.com have said that they did, in fact, bribe Tsukasa Akimoto
  • Akimoto was arrested again last week for alleged witness tampering
  • Akimoto’s fingerprints were found on money used to pay off Masahiko Konno
  • Donald Trump once urged Japan PM Abe to consider Sheldon Adelson for a license
Man accepting a bribe under the table
Two former advisors of gambling company 500.com have admitted in court to bribing Japanese lawmaker Tsukasa Akimoto in an attempt to garner one of Japan’s three casino licenses. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Advisors pleaded guilty to bribery charges

Things are looking worse for Japanese lawmaker Tsukasa Akimoto in his casino bribery case, as the two men who allegedly gave him cash have admitted to actually doing so.

Masahiko Konno and Katsunori Nakazato, former advisors to online gaming company 500.com, pleaded guilty during their first court appearance on Wednesday, saying that the bribery charges against them are “undoubtedly correct.”

The two men are accused of paying Akimoto ¥3m (US$28,150) over the course of several months in late 2017 and early 2018 in exchange for a leg up in the race to receive one of Japan’s three licenses to build an integrated casino resort. They gave Akimoto, the head of Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism, another ¥7.5m (US$70,375) for travel expenses for a trip to their company’s headquarters in Shenzhen, Guangdong.

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

Akimoto was arrested in December 2019 on the charges and was released on bail in February. He has proclaimed his innocence throughout, saying last year: “I have never been involved in wrongdoing at all. I will continue to assert that.”

Akimoto accused of witness tampering

While Akimoto’s trial date has not been set, the initial bribery charges are not his only legal problem. Last week, he was arrested once again, this time for alleged witness tampering.

Law enforcement officials suspect him of offering Konno ¥30m (US$281,501) this summer to provide false testimony. Fingerprints were found on cash that he allegedly used for payment, passed through an accomplice.

It is also thought that Akimoto asked Nakazato to perjure himself, though no details as to possible payments or other incentives have been made public.

Akimoto was one of the lead proponents of legalized casino gambling in parliament, tasked with overseeing the process of getting the industry up and running. 500.com was interested in building a casino resort in Hokkaido; Akimoto met with leaders in a Hokkaido village where the company wanted to build.

Analysts estimate that a Japanese casino gambling industry could be worth as much as $40b.

Donald Trump advocated for Sheldon Adelson

This is not the first time that someone has tried to peddle influence in the Japan casino competition, though in early 2017, the hitters were quite a bit heavier. According to a 2018 ProPublica report, shortly after Donald Trump was inaugurated as President of the United States, he went to bat for billionaire Las Vegas Sands CEO and Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson.

In January 2017, days after the inauguration, Adelson said during a company earnings call that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was “very impressed” with Adelson’s Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore. In February, Adelson, who contributed $20m to Trump’s presidential campaign and another $5m to his inauguration, had dinner at the White House with Trump, Jared Kushner, and then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Trump was visited by Prime Minister Abe earlier that day.

urged Abe to consider Las Vegas Sands for one of Japan’s three casino licenses

The next morning, Adelson attended a breakfast with Abe and a “small group of American CEOs, including two others from the casino industry.” Later, Trump and Abe flew to Mar-a-Lago, at which time Trump brought up Adelson “out of the blue” and urged Abe to consider Las Vegas Sands for one of Japan’s three casino licenses.

Las Vegas Sands dropped out of the running for a license in May of this year.