Editorial: Japanese gov't should reconsider casino resort plan in light of bribery scandal

Wednesday 15th January 2020

House of Representatives legislator Tsukasa Akimoto was hit with another arrest warrant by special investigators at the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office over a bribe-taking allegation involving an "integrated" casino resort corruption scandal.

Investigators freshly determined that travel expenses to China and lecture fees, which a Chinese corporation aiming to become involved in the casino business in Japan shouldered for Akimoto, amounted to bribes. When combined with the bribe amount Akimoto has already been indicted for, the total comes to some 7.3 million yen.

Akimoto has consistently maintained that he is innocent of the charges. However, his deep involvement with the accused bribe-givers has become increasingly clear. There are growing suspicions that he used his authority as state minister in charge of casino resorts to form cozy ties with a specific corporation.

The former member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was asked by a Chinese company to raise the maximum number of areas in Japan for the development of casino resorts, and is said to have told an official in charge not to incorporate a specific number into the "integrated" casino resorts promotion bill. Akimoto also queried the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism on whether it would be possible to build an airport adjacent to the casino resort that the Chinese corporation was planning to set up in Hokkaido.

The alleged bribe-givers told special investigators at the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office that they had also given 1 million yen in cash each to five other Diet members. Of these five, Mikio Shimoji admitted at a press conference that he had accepted the money, and also that the amount had not been listed in his political funds report.

Four of the five who are said to have been given bribes have constituencies in the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido or the southernmost prefecture of Okinawa where the Chinese firm was planning to open a casino resort. The remaining one was a senior official of a parliamentary group promoting casinos.

The Chinese corporation is suspected of attempting political machinations far and wide. The prosecutors' special investigative unit is questioning the five Diet members on a voluntary basis.

The incident has brought into sharp relief the structure in which casinos can bring about vested interests. That a government official can be bribed by a business and attempt to return the favor is extremely problematic.

And yet, the government has not changed its stance that the incident and the "integrated" casino resort system are two unrelated things. As planned, it launched a casino management committee that will evaluate casino operators. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga has acted as if the incident is of little consequence, saying, "The Chinese company under investigation does not have much of a track record. They're out of their league when it comes to integrated resorts."

Shimoji was expelled from Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party), the opposition party of which he was a member, but the party remains pro-casino, as it aims to attract a casino resort to Osaka, the party's home base.

There seems to be a lack of acknowledgment of the seriousness of the situation. Until the investigative results come in, plans for casino resorts should be frozen, and the mechanism by which casinos will be established and maintained should be reviewed.

Results of various public opinion polls show that there are deep-rooted misgivings toward casinos. According to one survey, 70% of those polled seek a review of casino plans after the latest incident. So why is the government still bent on going forward with its plans?

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