The lawmaker at the heart of the casino bribery scandal that shook Japan late last year stressed his innocence during a Friday press conference, telling journalists that he did not take bribes from a Chinese gambling firm seeking to win a license for a casino resort in Japan.
Tsukasa Akimoto, a former member of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), was arrested in December 2019 on suspicion that he accepted cash and different special treatments from Chinese online sports lottery operator 500.com to spearhead its bid to build an integrated resort with a dedicated casino floor in Hokkaido alongside a Japanese tourism agency.
The lawmaker has repeatedly denied the bribery allegations leveled against him and said that he has never favored any company seeking to enter Japan’s nascent casino market. Mr. Akimoto was released this week after paying a JPY30 million (approx. $270,000) bail.
At a press conference that lasted about 20 minutes and took place on Friday in an office building for members of the government’s House of Representatives, Mr. Akimoto once again said that he was innocent and that he has “never given favors to specific companies.”
The lawmaker, a member of the House of Representatives, is the first sitting Japanese legislator to be indicted in more than a decade. He left the LDP party a few days before his arrest.
”Never considered it a bribe”
Mr. Akimoto was indicted for allegedly receiving JPY7.6 million in cash and other treatments from 500.com in 2017 and 2018. At the time, the lawmaker served as a senior vice minister in charge of drafting the policy for the introduction of casino-style gaming in Japan.
According to Tokyo prosecutors, Mr. Akimoto received JPY2 million on September 1, 2017. The legislator said Friday that the money was a fee he was paid for delivering a speech at a 500.com-sponsored event. He also told journalists that he never considered the amount a bribe.
He also denied receiving another JPY3 million in cash from 500.com later in September 2017.
Aside from these two alleged incidents of Mr. Akimoto taking bribes from the Chinese gambling firm, investigators also found that 500.com treated the lawmaker to two trips and covered the expenses for those.
In December 2017, Mr. Akimoto visited the sports lottery operator’s headquarters in Shenzhen, China. In February 2018, he and his family took a trip to Hokkaido, which according to Tokyo prosecutors 500.com paid the expenses for.
The lawmaker said Friday that he instructed his former secretary to take care of the expenses for the trips and that he did not recognize them as constituting special treatment.
Mr. Akimoto also told journalists that for the time being he would focus on the trial. The lawmaker pushed back calls by opposition party members to give sworn testimony on the bribery scandal at the Diet.