Tsukasa Akimoto

Japanese lawmaker handed prison sentence in corruption case connected to Macau

Former lawmaker Tsukasa Akimoto received a four-year prison sentence, without suspension, and fines of about ¥7.6 million (MOP552,525/US$68,985), in a bribery case linked to the government’s project to build casino resorts in Japan and a trip to Macau.

According to the Japan Times, the Tokyo District Court considered Akimoto – who remains a member of the Lower House but has left the ruling Liberal Democratic Party – guilty of receiving bribes worth ¥7.6 million between September 2017 and February 2018 from a Chinese gambling operator aiming to enter Japan’s casino market.

He was also found guilty of offering money to two former advisers to the Chinese firm, 500.com, in exchange for giving false court testimony favorable to him between June and July last year, when he was released on bail.

The accusation against the lawmaker had alleged that during a December 2017 visit to the 500.com head office in Shenzhen and to Macau, to inspect a local casino, Akimoto had received casino chips and expensive brand goods.

The former member of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party has admitted to accepting the items from the company, but he said he had instructed a secretary to ensure that the travel costs would be paid for by his side.

Even though the casino in question, which some Japanese press has identified as one of Melco’s units, has no relationship with 500.com, the prosecutors team has searched one of this company’s Japanese units in relation to the bribery scandal. 

Shenzhen-based 500.com is among the first companies to provide online lottery services in China, and is one of the two entities that are authorized by the Ministry of Finance to provide online lottery sales services on behalf of the China Sports Lottery Administration Center. 

In December 2019, just a few days after Akimoto’s arrest, Director and CEO Zhengming Pan stepped down as the CEO in what was interpreted as a measure to allow an internal investigation to be conducted without any interference. 

Akimoto’s defense team said they appealed the ruling, with the lawmaker taken into custody following the ruling, but with the court accepting a bail request.

Four people were found guilty of giving bribes to Akimoto in the casino corruption scandal and another four were also convicted in the witness tampering case in conspiracy with the lawmaker.

Akimoto oversaw the government’s initiative to legalize the operation of casinos at so-called integrated resorts, which would include hotels and conference facilities, when he served as senior vice minister in the Cabinet Office for about a year from September 2017.

He left the LDP following his initial arrest in December 2019 on suspicion of taking bribes.

Following Tuesday’s ruling, the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan demanded Akimoto’s resignation as a lawmaker.

The Japanese government plans to pick up to three locations where integrated resorts will be permitted to open under legislation to legalize casino gambling in Japan approved in 2018, however the process has faced multiple hurdles.

Just last month opposition-backed Takeharu Yamanaka won the Yokohama mayoral election, vowing to withdraw the city’s bid to host one of the gambling resorts.