Two supporters of embattled Japanese lawmaker Tsukasa Akimoto have pleaded guilty to witness tampering on behalf of the former casino policymaker.
Akihito Awaji, 54, and Fumihiko Sato, 50, admitted to the Tokyo District Court this week that they attempted to bribe witnesses to give false evidence in the trial of Akimoto, who has been indicted for accepting kickbacks from a prospective casino developer.
In 2017, Akimoto is alleged to have received more than $72,000 from Chinese online gaming business 500.com, which had ambitions to build a casino in Japan.
At the time, the Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker was a member of then-prime minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet Office, and was instrumental in shaping policy for the liberalization of the country’s casino market.
500.com hoped for favorable treatment in its now-abandoned quest to build a casino Hokkaido Prefecture. It also wanted the number of licenses available across the country to be increased from three to five.
Akimoto oversaw the casino liberalization process for a year from September 2017, the month he is alleged to have received his first bribe.
Akimoto Fingerprints on Cash
While Akimoto maintains his innocence, two of 500.com’s advisors, Masahiko Konno and Katsunori Nakazato, have admitted to lining the lawmaker’s pockets.
Last month, they were handed suspended prison sentences and told by a judge they had “severely undermined the impartiality of duties and public trust in a large-scale project promoted by the government,” as reported by The Japan Times.
Meanwhile, Awaji and Sato have confessed to offering Konno 30 million yen ($286,000) between June and July this year. That allegedly came at Akimoto’s request in return for false testimony. Konno rebuffed the advance.
According to the South China Morning Post, Akimoto’s fingerprints were found on one of the stacks of banknotes used in the attempted bribe.
New PM Backs Casinos
The liberalization of casinos was a longstanding pet project of former Prime Minister Abe, part of his broader economic growth strategy, dubbed “Abenomics.”
Already years in the making, the process is currently on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic, with the government postponing accepting bids from local governments to host casino resorts. But new prime minister Yoshihide Suga has affirmed his commitment to seeing the process through.
While casinos are widely backed by the ruling LDP, the Japanese public is less enthused, with many citizens citing concerns about a possible rise in crime and gambling addiction. In opinion polls, those who are opposed to casinos consistently outweigh their supporters by 2:1.
The Akimoto scandal has done little to assuage people’s fears.