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Japan casino scandal deepens with lawmaker arrest

The scandal over Chinese firm 500 Dot Com’s IR lobbying activities in Japan deepened considerably with former Cabinet Office state minister Tsukasa Akimoto being arrested on bribery charges and two other ruling party lawmakers’ offices raided by prosecutors.

Prosecutors allege that on September 28, 2017, the day the last general election was held, Masahiko Konno, an adviser to 500 Dot Com, showed up at Akimoto’s Diet office and handed over a paper bag containing JPY3 million (about US$27,000). Akimoto was serving at that time in the Cabinet Office and was in charge of IR policymaking.

The money was allegedly then used for illegal payoffs to supporters of Akimoto’s reelection campaign.

There may be other instances in which Akimoto received illicit gifts from 500 Dot Com, including travel on a private jet to China and expensive hosting while on a visit to Macau.

Shortly before his arrest on Christmas Day, Akimoto telephoned a Mainichi Shinbun reporter and declared his innocence: "I wouldn't take such a small amount of money. It can't be true. They're such idiots."

Akimoto gained national prominence on December 2, 2016, when he, serving as chairman, railroaded IR legislation through a House of Representatives committee over the shouting and objections of opposition lawmakers.

Meanwhile, two other ruling party figures also had their offices raided. Takaki Shirasuka, a current lawmaker, as well as former lawmaker Shigeaki Katsunuma accompanied Akimoto when he visited 500 Dot Com’s headquarters in Shenzhen in 2017.

Opposition parties, which have strongly opposed IR development policies from the beginning, are calling for the national policies to be reversed, and have apparently already decided to submit legislation next month to ban casino gambling.

Major daily newspapers, too, which have consistently opposed or called for caution about the legalization of casino gambling have seized on the bribery scandal as evidence that IR development should not be allowed to go forward.

On the other hand, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga responded to Akimoto’s arrest by telling reporters, “We’ll work steadily to bring the benefits of integrated resorts as soon as possible.”

At all previous stages in the IR legislative process, the Abe government moved forward in defiance of public opinion, and they’ve yet to give any indication that they intend to compromise now.

500 Dot Com has yet to offer any public statement.

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