500.com Advisers Plead Guilty to Bribing Japanese Lawmaker Over Casino Plan

Posted on: August 26, 2020, 12:25h. 

Last updated on: August 26, 2020, 01:34h.

Two former Japanese advisers pleaded guilty to bribing a politician who shaped the country’s gaming regulations and policy.

Tsukasa Akimoto
Tsukasa Akimoto is accused of receiving bribes and witness tampering, charges he denies. (Image: The Japan Times)

Japanese lawmaker Tsukasa Akimoto, 48, has repeatedly denied accepting kickbacks for furthering the interests of Chinese online gaming company 500.com Ltd. and its pursuit of a casino in Hokkaido province.

But on Wednesday, two Japanese former advisers to 500.com pleaded guilty to bribing the former Liberal Democratic Party politician, who, as a member of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet Office, was instrumental in shaping policy for the liberalization of the country’s casino market.

The Mainichi Shimbun reports that Masahiko Konno and Katsunori Nakazato admitted to the Tokyo District Court they crossed Akimoto’s palm with 7.6 million yen ($72,000) worth of bribes in return for favorable treatment.

According to prosecutors, 500.com wanted Akimoto to increase the number of casino licenses available nationwide from three to five, as well as support the Hokkaido bid. The Lower House member oversaw the casino liberalization process for around a year from September 2017, which prosecutors said was the month he received the first bribe.

Konno told the court he had often witnessed other lawmakers besides Akimoto receiving money, adding he felt “donations were handled loosely.”

Botched Bribes

Ultimately, the inducement failed to pay off for 500.com. There remain just three licenses, and meanwhile, Hokkaido backed out of the race to host a casino resort last year over concerns about the impact construction might have on the local environment.

Also implicated in the scandal was former travel agency chief Kimihito Kamori, 77, whose company, Kamori Kanko, hoped to partner with 500.com on the proposed casino project. Kamori was also in court Wednesday, where he pleaded guilty to conspiring with Konno and Nakazato to participate in the bribery scheme.

Prosecutors say Kamori invited Akimoto and his family on an all-expenses-paid trip to Rusutsu, Hakkaido Province in February 2018.

Who, Me?

Last week, charges of witness tampering were added to Akimito’s rap sheet. That’s after he was accused of ordering three of his “followers” to offer money to Konno in return for delivering a false testimony that was favorable to the lawmaker, another bribe that failed to bear fruit.

On Monday, Akihito Awaji, Fumihiko Sato, and Kazuhiro Miyatake were indicted for allegedly offering 30 million yen ($284,000) to Konno to exhort him to commit perjury. According to South China Morning Post sources, Akimoto’s fingerprints were found on one of the bundles of cash used in the attempted bribe.

Nevertheless, Akimoto is unwavering in his denial of guilt: “I did not ask (anyone to falsely testify), nor am I involved in anything,” he told investigators last week, as reported by The Mainichi Shimbun.