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Politics

Japan ruling party lawmaker's office raided over casino-linked scandal

LDP member alleged to have ties to Chinese bidder suspected of breaking forex law

Tsukasa Akimoto is a member Japan's House of Representatives lawmaker and the Liberal Democratic Party. (Photo by Uichiro Kasai)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japanese prosecutors on Thursday raided two Tokyo offices of a ruling party lawmaker over his alleged ties to a Chinese casino and sports gambling operator that is suspected of violating the foreign currency exchange law.

The 48-year-old lawmaker, Tsukasa Akimoto, is a member of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party and has been a vocal supporter of the introduction of casino resorts to Japan.

His parliamentary and constituency offices were raided by members of the Tokyo prosecutors' special investigation squad in connection with the Chinese company, known to have shown interest in becoming involved in a casino project.

Akimoto was in charge of developing the government's so-called integrated resort project policy that will allow casinos to be introduced to Japan alongside large hotel and conference facilities. He oversaw the policy from August 2017 to October 2018 as a senior vice minister at the Cabinet Office.

Japan has recently legalized casino resorts. The government plans to choose up to three locations for the complexes expected to start operating in the mid-2020s.

The Chinese company, headquartered in Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, runs online casinos and a sports betting business among other ventures and is suspected of bringing in from overseas several million yen in cash without prior notice.

The foreign exchange law bans any person from carrying more than 1 million yen ($9,100) in cash into the country without informing customs authorities.

Since setting up a Japan unit in July 2017, the company has reached out to Akimoto, who was first elected to the House of Councillors in 2004 after serving as a secretary to a lawmaker, according to sources familiar with the matter.

In 2012, Akimoto successfully ran for a seat in the House of Representatives.

Members of the Tokyo prosecutors' special investigation squad earlier this month raided the homes of two of Akimoto's former secretaries over their ties to the company.

The prosecutors have also questioned Akimoto on a voluntary basis, according to the sources.

Akimoto has denied any wrongdoing, telling reporters on Dec. 9 that he had "nothing to do with this" after the search.

Violators of the foreign exchange law face a fine of up to 500,000 yen or imprisonment for a maximum of six months.

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