Japan Lawmaker Akimoto Gets Four-Year Prison Sentence Over Casino Bribery Scandal

  • Tsukasa Akimoto also has to pay ¥7.6m ($69,116) in fines for accepting the bribes
  • He was also found guilty of witness tampering after offering two people bribe money
  • Akimoto still plans to run in the next Lower House election despite the court ruling
  • The three integrated resort licenses available in Japan have not yet been handed out
prison interior
Japanese lawmaker Tsukasa Akimoto will spend four years in prison after the Tokyo District Court found him guilty of accepting casino-related bribes. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Guilty rulings

Japanese lawmaker Tsukasa Akimoto received a four-year prison sentence without suspension for accepting casino-related bribes. The Tokyo District Court decision on Tuesday also levied fines of about ¥7.6m ($69,116) on the defendant. Public prosecutors had been seeking a five-year prison sentence as well as the said amount in fines for the 49-year-old.

guilty of accepting bribes with a total value of ¥7.6m

The court found Akimoto guilty of accepting bribes with a total value of ¥7.6m between September 2017 and February 2018. The bribes came from 500.com, a Chinese gambling company that was allegedly hoping to get preferential treatment when it came to the development of integrated resorts in Japan. Akimoto had been a key overseer of the legalization of casinos in the country.

Akimoto is also guilty of offering bribe money to two former 500.com advisors in exchange for them providing false testimony about him. He allegedly offered the bribes in summer 2020 while he was out on bail.

In response to Akimoto claiming innocence, the Presiding Judge Toshihiko Niwa said: “Statements of those who admitted to providing cash were fully credible as they were strongly supported by objective evidence.” He described Akimoto’s efforts to bribe the two advisors to provide false testimony as “unprecedented obstruction of justice.”

Akimoto is still a Lower House member but is no longer a part of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. It is not common for an incumbent lawmaker to get a prison sentence without suspension.

Akimoto denies bribes

Akimoto has denied receiving any bribes. He also claimed he did not ask the former advisors to provide false statements, instead maintaining that he simply wanted them to say the truth. Ahead of the ruling, Akimoto said he was planning to take part in the next Lower House election no matter what the findings of the court might be.

planning to take part in the next Lower House election

Akimoto’s former secretary, Akihiro Toyoshima, was also sentenced as part of the case. The 42-year-old got a two-year prison term suspended for four years after pleading not guilty to a graft charge related to political corruption. Four people were already found guilty of providing bribes to Akimoto, while another four received convictions for witness tampering. All of these rulings are final.

Akimoto held the role of senior vice minister within the Cabinet Office. He left the ruling party after his initial arrest in December 2019.

Following the court ruling on Tuesday, the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan has called for his resignation as a lawmaker.

Integrated resorts at a standstill

The integrated resorts project in Japan is currently at a standstill. A number of major international casino operators have withdrawn their interest over the past year or so because of regulatory uncertainty and the COVID-19 pandemic.

After Japanese lawmakers legalized casino gambling in 2018, the government’s plan has been to initially have three integrated resorts in the country that could include a casino, hotel, convention center, and entertainment facilities. The integrated resort license recipients are yet to be chosen after the licensing process suffered delays caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

Additionally, following last month’s mayoral election in Yokohama, the victor, Takeharu Yamanaka, has said he is planning to withdraw the city’s bid for one of the integrated resort licenses. He has been a long-time opponent of integrated resorts.