Japanese lawmaker admits receiving a million yen
Japanese lawmaker Mikio Shimoji reversed course Monday and admitted that his office received 1 million yen ($9250) for 2017 general election campaigning from a Chinese gambling operator linked to a casino bribery scandal.
Kyodo News reports that speaking at a press conference in the Okinawa prefectural capital Naha Shimoji, 58, said he would consider whether to resign from the Japan Innovation Party, while the party’s leader said he should quit as a lawmaker.
The scandal came to light after lawmaker Tsukasa Akimoto, 48, proponent of the introduction of casino resorts, was arrested in December on suspicion of receiving 3.7 million yen in bribes from 500.com Ltd in 2007.
Japan recently legalised casinos, with the government planning to choose up to three locations for what it calls “integrated resorts” – complexes that include casinos along with hotels and conference facilities.
The screening process will involve casino operators submitting business plans in cooperation with local governments of towns and cities hoping to host such resorts, expected to start operating mid-2020s.
Shimoji had been questioned by prosecutors after Katsunori Nakazato, 47, who served as an adviser to the company, told investigators he had delivered around 1 million yen each to five lawmakers around September 2017, when he handed 3 million yen in cash to Akimoto, a source close to the matter said earlier.
The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office in investigating if the lawmakers or their secretaries received money in violation of the political funds control law, which bans donations from foreigners or foreign organisations.
Shimoji previously told Kyodo News that he had never received money from the company.
The other lawmakers, including former Defence Minister Takeshi Iwaya, 62, have denied the allegations.
Shimoji admitted that an employee at his office in Naha accepted an envelope with 1 million yen around October 15, 2017 from Masahiko Konno, another adviser to the company.
The money was not declared in the campaign or political funds and expenditure reports.
“It is something that I extremely regret,” Shimoji said.
“This was a violation of the political funds control law and he should resign,” Ichiro Matsui, who heads the Japan Innovation Party, told reporters in Osaka.
Shimoji, who belonged to a cross-party group of lawmakers promoting integrated resort projects, said he never tried to persuade any government agency to favour the Chinese company.
He also said he will return the money to Konno.
Japan’s casino quest thrown into turmoil
Japan’s quest to open casinos has led to the arrest of a lawmaker from the country’s governing party on charges of accepting bribes from Chinese online lottery firm 500.com.
Calvin Ayre reported in December that Japanese authorities announced last Wednesday that they’d arrested Tsukasa Akimoto, a lower house member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
Earlier this month, news broke that Akimoto’s aides were suspected of bringing in large amounts of cash from overseas without declaring the cash to customs officials.
In December, the Tokyo District Public Prosectors Office announced that Akimoto had been arrested on suspicion of accepting US$34,000 from 500.com, which at the time was pursuing an integrated resort project near Hokkaido.
Until a few months ago, Akimoto held a cabinet position with influence over Japan’s casino development process.
Akimoto confirmed his arrest in social media posts, in which he apologised for “causing this kind of situation and such a commotion.”
Akimoto continued to deny any wrongdoing, although local media quoted LDP sources saying Akimoto had formally indicated his intention to quit the party to save it further embarrassment.
Japanese police also arrested three individuals connected with 500.com, including a former vice-president and two Japanese corporate advisers.
The company is said to have paid to fly Akimoto and his family to Hokkaido in 2018 and also organised trips for Akimoto to Shenzhen and Macau.
500.com has never operated any land-based casino operations, but the Hokkaido integrated resort bid was part of the financially struggling company’s efforts to diversify its revenue streams, which were dealt a serious blow in March 2015 when China suspended all online lottery sales.
As luck would have it, 500.com was scheduled to hold its annual general meeting in Shenzhen late December.
The company has yet to publish anything on how the meeting went down or whether shareholders voiced any concerns over the company’s involvement in this growing Japanese scandal.
Concerns are mounting within the LDP that the scandal could negatively impact the country’s push to legalise casinos.
The Japanese public already views the whole integrated resort movement with suspicion and Akimoto’s allegations clearly won’t help alleviate those concerns.