Chinese casino bribery scandal ensnares more Japanese MPs

Julian Ryall

Six Japanese politicians have now been linked to a bribery scandal involving a Chinese gambling firm that was attempting to get a foothold in Japan’s nascent casino sector.

Police have already arrested Tsukasa Akimoto, a senior member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party who oversaw the government’s policy on the introduction of casinos as part of so-called integrated resorts. Akimoto, who has since resigned from the party, is accused of accepting payments of around 3 million yen (US$27,750) from officials of 500.com in September 2017.

Three other people were arrested at the same time as Akimoto, with one of the men, identified as an adviser to 500.com, telling investigators that the company handed over 1 million yen (US$9,249) to five more politicians at around the same time.

Sources told the Mainichi newspaper that some of the five belong to a cross-party group of politicians tasked with promoting international tourism. Legalised gambling and casinos have been seen as an effective way of attracting more foreign tourists to Japan.

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Despite widespread opposition, a law approving the construction of integrated resorts – bringing together hotels, restaurants, retail outlets, entertainment venues and casinos – was passed in the summer of 2018.

One of the politicians swept up in the scandal told the Mainichi that he had met a representative but claimed he was not aware of the man’s links to the Chinese company and denied receiving “even a penny” from the firm.

Japanese authorities and the media have not named any of the politicians other than Akimoto who are being investigated.

A former member of the Diet, Japan’s parliament, told the South China Morning Post that concerns over bribery and corruption had been voiced when the idea of relaxing the country’s strict gambling rules was first proposed.

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“When I was in the Diet, there were lots of concerns about the negative influences that casinos might have on society,” said Mieko Nakabayashi, who was a member of the Democratic Party of Japan a decade ago and is today a professor of social sciences at Waseda University.

“The biggest worries were about an increase in crime, a bad influence on children and on people living close to integrated resorts, on other businesses and about the problem of gambling addiction,” she said.

“The other worry was about bribery, corruption and even the involvement of organised crime groups. That appears to be what we are seeing now.”

Nakabayashi said she believes that the police investigation may yet uncover more people who were involved.

“I think it’s very possible that they are looking to catch some bigger fish, people with more influence,” she said. “I don’t think this is the end of their investigation.”

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