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Japan ruling party lawmaker to be arrested over alleged bribe-taking

Update: December, 25/2019 - 12:31

TOKYO — Japanese prosecutors have obtained an arrest warrant for a ruling party lawmaker on suspicion of receiving several million yen in a bribe from a Chinese gambling operator, investigative sources said on Wednesday.

The prosecutors plan to arrest Tsukasa Akimoto, a 48-year-old member of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party, as well as several people suspected of bribing him, in the near future, the sources said.

His arrest may affect the course of the government's policy to allow casinos in Japan as part of efforts to buoy the economy. The most recent time a Japanese parliamentarian was arrested in relation to bribery allegations was in 2010.

The case, brought by Tokyo prosecutors, is just the latest in a spate of money and gift-giving scandals that have hit the Abe administration, costing two Cabinet ministers their jobs.

Akimoto, known as a vocal supporter of the introduction of casino resorts in Japan, denied any wrongdoing said on Wednesday that the allegations were "groundless" and he is "not involved at all" in the alleged case.

As a senior vice minister at the Cabinet Office for about a year through October last year, Akimoto was in charge of overseeing the government's policy on introducing casinos as part of so-called integrated resorts that will also include large hotel and conference facilities. He also served as a senior vice minister of the tourism ministry.

Last week, the prosecutors searched two Tokyo offices of the lawmaker over his ties to the Chinese casino and sports gambling operator, which is suspected of violating the foreign currency exchange law.

He has been questioned on a voluntary basis by the prosecutors, who also searched earlier this month the homes of two of his former secretaries over their ties to the Chinese company.

The company, headquartered in Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, runs online casinos and a sports betting business among other ventures and is suspected of bringing in several million yen in cash from overseas without declaring it.

The foreign exchange law bans any person from carrying more than 1 million yen ($9,100) in cash into Japan without informing customs authorities. Violators face a fine of up to 500,000 yen or imprisonment for a maximum of six months.

Japan has recently legalised casinos to be operated at integrated resorts in the hope of attracting more foreign tourists to invigorate the economy after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

The government plans to choose up to three locations for the first resorts, which are expected to start operating in the mid-2020s.

The Chinese company was keen on being involved in a casino resort project promoted by the village of Rusutsu in Hokkaido. The firm reached out to Akimoto immediately after setting up a subsidiary in Tokyo in July 2017, according to sources familiar with the matter.

In August that year, both Akimoto and a top executive of the company attended a symposium on integrated resorts held in Naha, the prefectural capital of Okinawa.

In December, Akimoto visited the firm's headquarters in the fast-growing Chinese city and was taken on a trip to a casino in Macau.

Akimoto was first elected to the House of Councillors in 2004 after serving as a secretary to a lawmaker. In 2012, he successfully ran for a seat in the House of Representatives. — KYODO

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