Photo: Tsukasa Akimoto/YouTube.com

Japan grappling with first alleged casinos corruption cases

It is only the first of the alleged cases of corruption linked to the introduction of casinos in Japan, but it is already confirming suspicions that the intention to introduce Integrated Resorts (IR) has been raised to many of the most skeptical.

The indictment of Tsukasa Akimoto for allegedly receiving bribes that now tops more than 7 million yen (around HK$500,000) is confirming the apprehension of many in this country, which for decades has been dealing with a huge gaming industry (pachinko) that is connected in many cities with local organized crime, the yakuza.

A former member of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, Akimoto, is no other than the lawmaker that led Japan’s casino resort policy.

Indicted in 2017 on charges of receiving 3 million yen (HK$210,000) from Chinese Gambling operator 500.com, who according to reports wanted him to increase the number of planned IR locations in the country to five.

Akimoto was also the target of a fresh arrest warrant this week and prosecutors now accuse him of receiving 7 million yen in bribes, including a 1.5 million trip to the Chinese company headquarters in Shenzhen and 700,000 yen in expenses for a family trip to Hokkaido in 2018.

“I believe we will see more cases in the future, because the interests involved are huge, and competition to enter this market is enormous”, says Macau News Agency (MNA), an analyst that prefers to keep his identity undisclosed.

“If the country wants to avoid the same scandals in other jurisdictions unveiled, when we can just guess how many others will never see the light of the day, a stronger task force needs to address all the lobbying gaming companies and operators that want a piece of the pie are already doing here”, says the same analyst.

The 48-year-old Tsukasa Akimoto, who has denied all the accusations by saying he does not remember receiving cash, according to media reports, is being accused along with four other people: Akihiro Toyoshima, 41, Akimoto’s former secretary; Zheng Xi, 37, former executive of 500.com in Japan; Masahiko Konno, 48, and Katsunori Nakazato, 47, “who both served as advisers to the gambling operator”, published Kyodo news agency.

Konno is also suspected to take more than 20 million yen (MOP1.4 million) in cash into Japan, which violates the country’s foreign exchange law.

The scandal is now making the public more aware of possible problems related to a massive new industry that can generate billions of US dollars.

An opinion poll conducted last weekend show that more than 70 percent of the people interviewed now want the government to review plans to build casinos in Japan.

*In Sapporo, Okkaido, Japan