Indicted Japanese politician Tsukasa Akimoto, who remains at the center of a casino bribery scandal, denied the allegations to the media and wants to resume his role in the Diet as soon as next month.
In a 20-minute press conference on Friday, Akimoto, 48, told the almost 100 reporters present he is focusing on proving his innocence in Japanese courts.
I have never given favors to specific companies,” Akimoto was quoted by The Japan Times during the press conference. He contends he visited locations of proposed integrated resorts because of his then-role as a minister in the Cabinet, NHK News said.
In an apparent rejection of calls by political opponents and others to testify under oath in the Diet’s House of Representatives, Akimoto announced instead he will “focus for the time being on the trial.”
Akimoto allegedly accepted 7.6 million yen (approximately $69,000) in cash and gifts from 500.com during 2017 and 2018 while involved in the process to legalize casinos in Japan. 500.com is a China-based online gambling business which wanted to expand in Japan.
The company set up a subsidiary in Tokyo during July 2017 to pursue a casino resort in the ski-resort village of Rusutsu, Hokkaido.
But Akimoto denied getting illicit money from the company. He also explained that the 2 million yen (about $18,000) he received in September 2017 was reimbursement for a speaking appearance. Akimoto “never considered it a bribe,” the Times reported.
Akimoto further contends he told his then-secretary to oversee management of expenses for travel to China, the report adds. The company also allegedly paid for travel costs of about $6,900 for him to meet with officials at its Shenzhen headquarters.
Reports also claimed Akimoto appears to have visited one of Melco’s Macau integrated resorts in 2017.
After posting 30-million-yen bond (about $273,000), Akimoto was released from the Tokyo Detention House on Wednesday, NHK said. The Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office had argued against a court granting him bail.
Because of the scandal, Akimoto resigned from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. His indictment marks the first time in a decade a lawmaker in Japan has been indicted.
Explain Scandal to Legislators
The scandal has gotten a lot of attention in Japan and globally. In a recent editorial, The Mainichi, an influential Japanese daily, called on Akimoto to “thoroughly explain the scandal in the Diet” through sworn testimony.
“It is necessary for Akimoto to explain to the public what kind of relationship he had with 500.com,” The Mainichi added in the editorial.
The investigation into the lawmaker has reached the end of a chapter, and the excuse that any remarks he makes in public may influence the trial will not hold any water.”
Japanese officials have also charged three others — each once affiliated with 500.com — in the alleged bribery scheme. They include Zheng Xi, 37, Masahiko Konno, 48, and Katsunori Nakazato, 47.
Bail was approved last week for Nakazato, 6 million yen (about $55,000). Zheng and Konno were released earlier on bond. Each of the trio admitted to alleging bribing Akimoto, the Times reported.
Recently, five other politicians were questioned but not charged by prosecutors in connection with the inquiry. Among them was former defense minister Takeshi Iwaya.
Japan Moves Forward with Casino License Process
Despite the scandal, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says the national government will continue with its plan to license three new integrated resorts. The submission period for applicants is expected to run from January 4, 2021 to July 30, 2021.
A survey by Kyodo News indicates that nearly 71 percent of those polled in Japan believe their government should revisit plans to embrace integrated resorts. Just over 21 percent of those polled believe the country’s plans to embrace casino gaming should proceed.