Japanese Lawmaker Rearrested over Witness Tampering in Snowballing Casino Bribery Scandal


A Japanese lawmaker previously indicted in a massive casino bribery scandal was served a fresh arrest warrant by Tokyo prosecutors earlier this week on suspicion of witness tampering.

Tsukasa Akimoto, a member of Japanโ€™s House of Representatives and a former member of the Liberal Democratic Party, was first arrested last year for allegedly taking bribes from Chinese online sports lottery firm 500.com to spearhead its bid to operate a casino in Japan.

The embattled lawmaker was indicted on bribery charges in January, despite vehemently and repeatedly denying the accusations leveled against him. He was released on bail in February.

The politician was rearrested in late August for allegedly asking acquaintances to offer money to former 500.com advisors in exchange for false court testimony in relation to Mr. Akimotoโ€™s bribery case.

Case records name Katsunori Nakazato as one of the former 500.com advisors who were allegedly offered a witness tampering deal. Mr. Nakazato played a key role in the Chinese companyโ€™s effort to expand in Japan and win the right to build a casino resort.

Masahiko Konno, another former advisor at the Chinese gambling company, was allegedly offered JPY30 million (approx. $283,000) at a hotel in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture and was asked to give false testimony before Tokyo prosecutors. That allegedly happened between June and July. Corporate executive Akihito Awaji was named as the person who offered money to Mr. Konno.

Bribery, Witness Tampering Scandal Expands

Tokyo police arrested in August Mr. Awaji and Daisuke Matsuura, among other suspects, in relation to the witness tampering investigation. Mr. Matsuura told investigators that he made an offer to Mr. Nakazato to testify in favor of Mr. Akimoto on behalf of the lawmaker.

Mr. Awaji also told investigators that he acted on behalf of the politician. He was indicted on witness tampering charges shortly after his arrest.

The embattled lawmaker has denied any involvement in the witness tampering scheme as investigation into the matter continues.

Mr. Akimoto is the first sitting Japanese lawmaker to be charged with a crime of any sort in over a decade. The legislator was tasked with overseeing an initiative for the legalization and regulation of integrated casino resorts in Japan.

Mr. Akimoto also served as a senior vice minister in the Cabinet Office between September 2017 and October 2018.

According to case records, he received a total of JPY7.6 million worth of bribes from Mr. Konno and Mr. Nakazato in 2017 and 2018 to help 500.com win one of three casino licenses that the central government plans to award some time next year.

The lawmaker was given cash and was treated to a family trip to Rusutsu, Hokkaido, the costs for which were covered by 500.com. The Chinese company planned to build a casino resort namely in that part of Japan.

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