Japan ruling party lawmaker Tsukasa Akimoto accused of accepting bribes from a casino company

Wednesday 26th February 2020

A lawmaker of the ruling party in Japan who was accused of receiving bribes has been arrested. It is believed that the lawmaker received cash totaling to over 3 million yen ($27,500) from a company that was planning to set up a casino in the country. According to the Japanese prosecutors, the legislator is part of the prime minister's ruling party and a key figure in the government's push to legalize casinos as a way of increasing government revenues. The lawmaker was a prominent vice minister in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government tasked with championing the government's new casino policy.

Gambling in Japan is a highly divisive issue that has forced most people in the conservative society to take a side. A previous poll on the issue, for example, revealed that people who opposed the government policy were slightly above 50 percent of the population. In October, Jiji News also conducted an opinion poll to determine the popularity of the government's policy of pushing integrated resorts that would include casinos. From the poll, about 57 percent of those who were interviewed did not support it while only a mere 26 percent were in support of the integrated resorts.

After the arrest of the lawmaker, the prosecutors also confirmed having searched another lawmaker's office in an attempt to look for evidence concerning the bribery allegations. The second lawmaker was also from the ruling party and although he was not arrested, it is an indication that the prosecutors were not taking any chance. According to the local media outlet Kyodo News, the search was part of the efforts by the prosecutors to bring to book all those who might have been involved in the bribery scheme.

Many observers indicate that those who are for the government's policy of supporting integrated resorts that would allow the introduction of casinos in Japan are a worried lot. They feel that the high-profile arrests on bribery claims could lead to increased public backlash on the policy. This occurs amid previous optimism that progress was being made in introducing casinos into the country. The lawmaker's arrest, therefore, might dent the efforts made to win the public's support of the policy. This is because most of the people who support the policy know that the arrests could portray casinos as illegitimate business ventures. Moreover, if more people think that casinos would end up being sources of crimes such as corruption and money laundering, their support from the government would face increased opposition from the citizenry.

When the prosecutors questioned Tsukasa Akimoto, he denied any wrongdoing. The arrest of the 48 -year old legislator led to an uproar from those who opposed the integrated resorts and even questioned its ability to buoy the economy. The opposition leaders, for instance, promised that they would oppose any attempts to make casino gaming legal in the country and outlined their plans to introduce a bill in the House of Representatives to outlaw casino operations.

This led to the postponement of the introduction of the basic policy on the integrated resort as outlined in Casinotop5.jp. The decision will now be made between March and April 2020. The postponement appears to be a tactical move from the ruling party because it buys the government time to find a way of ensuring they convince more legislators to support the policy. The company that was in question in the case, known as 500.com Ltd, is from the neighboring China. The company is a large player in the gambling industry globally and is even listed in the New York Stock Exchange.

According to the prosecutors handling the lawmaker's bribery case, it is believed that he received the bribe in mid-February 2018. He received the bribe in Tokyo and even made a trip to Hokkaido at the invitation of the Chinese company. The trip is estimated to have been an all-expense-paid trip estimated to have cost about 700,000 Yens. The prosecutors also confirmed that they arrested the company's employees who are believed to have been part of the syndicate. The three people are employees of the 500.com Ltd who are believed to have negotiated the bribes with the lawmaker.

The lawmaker resigned from the ruling party following the bribery allegations levelled against him although he did not provide any further information as to whether the allegations were true or false. He continued to proclaim his innocence on his Twitter account, 'I have never been involved in wrongdoing at all. I will continue to assert that.' The case is one among the numerous that have been associated with members of the prime minister's LDP. There are many more cases where members of the ruling party are accused of receiving gifts and money from business people who want the lawmakers to influence certain decisions in order to favour their firms. In 2017, for instance, the prime minister was forced to part ways with two cabinet ministers for allegations of bribery.

During a press conference, chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga was not willing to make any comments on the issue citing that it was an ongoing case, and he did not want to jeopardize it. When journalists asked whether the government was going to shelve the proposed policy on integrated resorts, he asserted that the push to implement it was ongoing and that there was not going to be any relenting on the issue. He further explained that the government believed the policy had the capacity to generate income as soon as possible.

Recently, the Japanese government has legalized casinos in the integrated resorts. The Japanese parliament legalized casino activities in 2016 after many years of debate that created sharp divisions between those in support of the policy and those opposed to the policy. Casino activities are limited to operating in conference and hotel facilities although the government is yet to issue casino licenses yet. This was in the hope that it will attract more foreign tourists and continue driving the economy post the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics and Olympic Games.

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