Prosecutors in Tokyo have arrested Tsukasa Akimoto, a lawmaker from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, over allegations of taking bribes from a Chinese company, a casino and sports gambling operator, Japan's public broadcaster NHK reported. Prosecutors also arrested three others on suspicion of giving bribes to Akimoto.
Akimoto, 48, served as senior vice minister in the Cabinet Office until October 2018 and was in charge of developing the government's "integrated resort project policy". Akimoto has denied allegations of any wrongdoing. Two cabinet ministers in the Abe administration stepped down in October over similar allegations of financial improprieties.
Arrests and reactions
Recently, prosecutors searched two Tokyo offices of the lawmaker over his alleged ties to the Chinese casino and sports gambling operator. The Chinese company is suspected of bringing several million yen in cash from abroad without declaring it to customs officials. This is in violation of Japan's foreign exchange law that prohibits any person from carrying more than 1 million yen ($9,100) in cash into Japan without informing customs authorities. If in violation, the penalty is 500,000 yen or a six-month prison term.
Akimoto was questioned, while the homes of two of his secretaries searched.
The lawmaker has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. In a tweet on Wednesday (December 24, 2019) morning, he said, "I am not involved in any fraud."
The resort project policy spearheaded by Akimoto, a member of the House of Representatives, is part of Abe's plan to stimulate Japan's economy and tourism. Under this policy, casinos will be introduced alongside the large hotel and conference facilities. Japan has recently legalized opening of casinos with an aim to attract foreign tourists.
"This [Akimoto's arrest] shakes the foundation of the government's integrated-resort policy," Kazuhiro Haraguchi, parliamentary affairs chief for the opposition Democratic Party For the People, told reporters. "If a deputy minister in the Cabinet Office with authority (over the casino issue) used his position to get money, it would be outrageous," he added.