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Politics

Japan lawmaker guilty of taking bribes from China gambling operator

Tsukasa Akimoto receives 4-year sentence in graft case involving casino push

Liberal Democratic Party member Tsukasa Akimoto, center, was also found guilty of offering money to two former advisers to China's 500.com in exchange for giving false court testimony.

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- A Japanese lawmaker was sentenced Tuesday to four years in prison and ordered to pay fines of about 7.6 million yen ($69,000) in a bribery case linked to the government's project to build casino resorts.

The Tokyo District Court ruled that former ruling Liberal Democratic Party member Tsukasa Akimoto was guilty of receiving bribes worth 7.6 million yen between September 2017 and February 2018 from a Chinese gambling operator aiming to enter Japan's casino market.

Akimoto, 49, was also found guilty of offering money to two former advisers to the Chinese company 500.com in exchange for giving false court testimony favorable to him between June and July last year, when the House of Representatives lawmaker was released on bail.

It is rare that an incumbent lawmaker is given a prison sentence without suspension.

"Statements of those who admitted to providing cash were fully credible as they were strongly supported by objective evidence," Presiding Judge Toshihiko Niwa said, dismissing Akimoto's claim of innocence.

The judge also recognized Akimoto took the initiative in organizing false court testimony, saying his action was an "unprecedented obstruction of justice."

Akimoto had denied receiving bribes and argued he did not ask the former advisers to the Chinese company to make false statements, as he only wanted them to tell the truth.

The court also sentenced the lawmaker's former state-paid secretary Akihiro Toyoshima, indicted on graft charge, to two years in prison, suspended for four years. Toyoshima, 42, had pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors had sought a five-year prison term and fines of about 7.6 million yen for Akimoto, saying he accepted the bribes despite being aware of the Chinese company's intention of getting special treatment.

Akimoto, whose bail will be revoked before he is taken into custody due to the prison sentence, told Kyodo News on Monday he intends to stand in the next lower house election regardless of the ruling. His lawyers are likely to apply for bail.

Akimoto oversaw the government's initiative to legalize the operation of casinos at so-called integrated resorts with hotels and conference facilities when he served as senior vice minister in the Cabinet Office for about a year from September 2017.

He left the LDP following his initial arrest in December 2019 on suspicion of taking bribes.

In the casino corruption scandal, four people were found guilty of giving bribes to Akimoto and another four were also convicted in the witness tampering case in conspiracy with the lawmaker. All of their rulings have been finalized.

The country's casino project, which Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has promoted since he was chief Cabinet secretary under his predecessor Shinzo Abe, has been at a standstill due to the withdrawal of interest by key foreign operators amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In major blow to Suga, opposition-backed Takeharu Yamanaka won the Yokohama mayoral election last month, vowing to withdraw the city's bid to host one of the gambling resorts.

The government plans to pick up to three locations where integrated resorts will be permitted to open under legislation that cleared parliament in 2018 to legalize casino gambling in Japan.

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