Japan MP arrested over bribes from Chinese gambling operator


Japanese authorities arrested ruling party lawmaker Tsukasa Akimoto on Wednesday on suspicion of accepting bribes from a company interested in setting up a casino in Japan, Tokyo prosecutors said.

Hours later prosecutors searched the office of a second lawmaker from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party as part of the same investigation, Kyodo news and other Japanese media said, in what appeared to be a widening probe.

The high-profile arrest of a member of Prime Minister Shinzo Abes LDP could harden public opposition to casinos, which have been consistently unpopular despite the governments push to have them running by the early 2020s.

A senior vice minister in the Cabinet Office until October last year, Akimoto oversaw government policy on casinos. He is suspected of receiving 3 million yen ($27,500) in cash and a family holiday worth the equivalent of $6,500 from three suspects despite knowing that their company wanted help with a casino bid, prosecutors said.

The three suspects were also arrested on suspicion of bribery, prosecutors said. The lawmaker has repeatedly denied doing anything illegal.

I have absolutely not taken part in any wrongdoing, Akimoto wrote on his official Twitter account earlier on Wednesday, after media reported he was likely to be questioned. I will continue to emphasize this point.

Hours later, prosecutors searched the office of lawmaker Takaki Shirasuka in Chiba, east of the capital, in connection with the probe into Akimoto, Kyodo and public broadcaster NHK said.

Prosecutors did not name the company whose three employees allegedly tried to influence Akimoto, but public broadcaster NHK and other local media identified it as Shenzhen, China-based 500.Com Ltd, an online sports lottery service provider.

Representatives of four opposition parties said they would submit a bill to abolish Japans casino law in the next session of parliament, public broadcaster NHK said. Lawmakers only finished legalizing casinos last year after a series of controversial bills and years of debate.

The government sees casinos anchoring ambitious integrated resorts that include shopping outlets and hotels and are aimed at bolstering tourism, tax revenue and local economies.

Japan, which has a shrinking population and economy, is desperate to maintain growth in tourism, particularly after the Tokyo Olympics end next year.

Some analysts have said the casino market could be worth around $20 billion a year or more, thanks to an affluent population and the proximity to Asias wealthy gamblers. But critics have cited risks of increased gambling addiction and more organized crime.

Akimotos arrest could add to the negative images the Japanese public holds of casinos, said Hidenori Suezawa, an analyst at SMBC Nikko Securities.

It may be a blow to some local governments ongoing campaign to attract casinos, he said.

Gambling has traditionally had a seedy image in Japan, with none of the glamor associated with spots like Las Vegas.

Source: https://www.reuters.com

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