Japanese Lawmaker Sentenced to 4 Years in Prison in Casino Bribery Scandal

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Japanese lawmaker Tsukasa Akimoto was sentenced to four years in prison and was fined JPY7.6 million over his involvement in a bribery case linked to the country’s effort to build up to three integrated casino resorts.

Public prosecutors had sought a five-year prison term and JPY7.6 million in fines for the disgraced lawmaker, but the Tokyo District Court delivered on Tuesday a slightly lighter sentence.

Mr. Akimoto was found guilty of accepting bribes of JPY7.6 million between September 2017 and February 2018 from a Chinese gambling firm pursuing a license to operate a casino resort in Japan.

The lawmaker, who despite his recent sentence remains a member of the Japanese government’s Lower House, was first detained in late 2019 and was released on bail in February 2020 only to be rearrested in the summer of that year.

He quit the ruling Liberal Democratic Party following his original arrest. The massive bribery scandal is the first in many years to involve an incumbent lawmaker in the country.

Chinese sports lottery operator 500.com was identified as the company that had offered hefty bribes to Mr. Akimoto, asking him to spearhead its bid for one of the three casino licenses up for grabs from the central government. The lawmaker was serving as a Senior Vice Minister in the Cabinet Office and was overseeing Japan’s effort to legalize the operation of integrated casino resorts at the time when he took bribes from 500.com.

He has maintained his innocence since he was first arrested nearly two years ago.

Court Finds Akimoto Guilty of Additional Wrongdoings

The Tokyo District Court has further found Mr. Akimoto guilty of offering money to two former 500.com advisers to give false testimony in relation to his involvement in the bribery scandal between June and July last year.

The lawmaker has denied those accusations as well. Presiding Judge Toshihiko Niwa said Tuesday that “statements of those who admitted to providing cash were fully credible” and “were strongly supported by objective evidence.”

Judge Niwa went on to note that Mr. Akimoto took the initiative in organizing false court testimony and described his actions as “unprecedented obstruction of justice.”

The lawmaker’s legal team appealed the Tuesday ruling. Mr. Akimoto was taken into custody following his sentence, but his lawyers immediately requested bail and the court accepted that request. The Lower House legislator said that he would stand in the chamber’s next election despite his sentence.

Following the Tuesday District Court ruling, opposition parties demanded Mr. Akimoto’s resignation and criticized the Liberal Democratic Party for lacking discipline and failing to penalize him.

Source: Lawmaker Tsukasa Akimoto to serve four years in prison over casino bribes, Japan Times, September 7, 2021

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