Men Who Bribed Japanese Politician Over IR Receive Prison Sentences

  • Masahiko Konno and Katsunori Nakazato were advisors for Chinese gambling company 500.com
  • Konno got a two-year prison sentence and Nakazato received 22 months, both suspended
  • The men bribed Japanese lawmaker Tsukasa Akimoto with approximately US$72,000
  • Akimoto tried to bribe both men in exchange for them providing false testimony
handcuffed man holding cash behind his back
Two former consultants for online gaming firm 500.com received suspended prison sentences for bribing a Japanese lawmaker heading the country’s IR licensing process. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Update: On October 14, the Tokyo District Court denied Akimoto’s bail request, submitted two days earlier. The Japanese lawmaker was released on bail in February but came under arrest again in August on charges of alleged witness tampering.

Suspended sentences

The Tokyo District Court has found two men guilty of bribing Japanese lawmaker Tsukasa Akimoto over an integrated resort (IR) project. Masahiko Konno and Katsunori Nakazato both received suspended prison sentences on Monday.

The court handed Konno a two-year prison sentence, suspended for three years. Katsunori Nakazato got a 22-month sentence, also suspended for three-years. 

severely undermined the impartiality of duties and public trust”

Speaking about the actions of the two men, Judge Niwa Toshihiko said they had “severely undermined the impartiality of duties and public trust in a large-scale project promoted by the government.”

The judge did acknowledge that the men turned down bribes from Akimoto and his accomplices in exchange for giving false court testimony.

Reasons for the bribe

Both men previously worked as advisors for Chinese gambling company 500.com Ltd. The company was one of several with interest in developing a potential IR project in Hokkaido, Japan’s second-largest island.

Only three casino resort licenses are up for grabs. Known in the region as integrated resorts (IRs), these licenses are part of the initial phase of rolling out legal casinos in Japan.

In November 2019, Hokkaido’s governor announced that the prefecture would not be making a proposal to be a potential site for one of the three IRs. The announcement came before the bribery allegations came to light.

Arrest of Akimoto

Akimoto is facing his own legal battle related to the scandal. Police arrested him in December 2019 on bribery allegations while he was a Cabinet Office state minister in charge of IRs. 

The court determined that Akimoto had taken bribes from Nakazato and Konno totaling ¥7.5m ($71,187) between 2017 and 2018. These bribes included travel costs for Akimoto to visit 500.com’s headquarters in Shenzhen. In return, the two former 500.com advisors were provided with inside information about Japan’s IR plans.

Authorities also indicted Akimoto in September for allegedly offering money to both Nakazato and Konno to give false testimony in court.

The King & Wood Mallesons (KWM) law firm conducted an internal investigation at 500.com relating to the bribery case, finding no evidence of any wrongdoing.

Delayed process

The bribery scandal has been a stain on the development of Japan’s casino industry. The latest setback for the launch of IRs came last week when the central government pushed back the application date for local governments to make their pitch to earn a license. 

delay is attributed to disruptions to both the casino industry and local governments

The application window was originally set for January 4 through July 30, 2021. The Japan Tourism Agency published revised basic draft guidelines on October 9, however, moving the start date for the application period back to October 1, 2021. The delay is attributed to disruptions to both the casino industry and local governments as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Because of numerous delays, many leading casino operators pulled out of the race for IR licenses. The four cities that are currently in contention for a license are Yokohama, Wakayama, Osaka, and Nagasaki.