Japanese Lawmaker Admits Receiving Casino Bribe

Another Japanese lawmaker has been caught up in a bribery scandal, indicating the persistence of Chinese gambling operators to break into the nascent Japanese integrated resort market. There is still plenty of competition in the region, and these bribes highlight the lengths local operators are willing to go to get an early foothold in the new market.

Tokyo bay.

The Tokyo political elite have been embroiled in a corruption scandal that could derail the integrated resort project in its infancy, and has embarrassed the Shinzo Abe ruling government. ©xegxef/Pixabay

The extraordinary lengths gambling operators that are locally situated to Japan appear willing to go to get a piece of the Japanese integrated resort market is clear and plain to see. The region is expected to announce its award decisions of lucrative casino licenses in the coming months once the due process and proper vetting of each applicant have been completed.

Prosecutors have already charged a Japanese lawmaker accepting bribes earlier in the year. This new case is against another individual who was traveling on the same trip with Shenzhen and also accepted a bribe of approximately $9,600 from Shenzhen based 500.com.

But interestingly in this newest case of bribery, prosecutors will not be pressing any charges, as Takaki Shirasuka had no authority over the outcome of integrated resorts contract in his occupational capacity when he accepted the cash. The 45-year-old was a participant of a group of Japanese lawmakers that were promoting the project to interested businesses and other partners around the Asian continent.

Shirasuka and Akimoto Travelled Together to Meet 500.com

The plaintiff in this case Takaki Shirasuka is a member of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, and plays a significant role as a business envoy to significant Asian partners. Whilst the controversy of this case intensifies, interestingly, his political partners in Japan have been quietly distancing themselves from the pair.

Both Shirasuka and Akimoto traveled to the headquarters of a Chinese gambling company 500.com Ltd. in the start-up incubator city of Shenzhen, and later to a casino in Macau. All of these trips were taken during 2017, and both Shirasuka and his fellow Liberal Democratic Party member Akimoto are accused of accepting bribes from Chinese casino bosses whilst on this trip.

Akimoto is in the midst of a court case, after his arrest in December 2019 he has now been released on bail and awaits the verdict of the courts to determine whether he will have to spend time behind bars. After being indicted for bribery crimes, Akimoto lost his former position as a senior vice minister at the Cabinet Office – and relinquished his responsibility for directing the future policy of Japan’s incoming integrated resort project.

The specific crimes Akimoto is accused of committing amount to accepting over $60,000 in payments from the Chinese gambling firm 500.com between 2017 and 2018. The purpose of these payments has not yet been formally identified, but the charges are known to have included payments to cover the expenses of his trip to China.

His partner in the alleged conspiracy to corrupt the integrated resort selection process, Shirasuka, accepted a much lower total of $9,600 but is believed to have also been given gambling chips by the casino in Macau for his own enjoyment. Fortunately for Shirasuka, his position in the government did not allow him to have direct influence over the integrated resort selection process – so the remuneration he received from the Chinese gambling firms are not being viewed in the same legal context.

Shirasuka Will Not Be Prosecuted

Ever since the story broke regarding a second Japanese lawmaker involved in suspicious payments from Chinese gambling firms, political allies have rallied around Shirasuka to protest his innocence. The office of the accused politician has been cooperating with investigators and has produced a strong case to verify that none of his actions constituted anything that is illegal.

Whilst the case may be that nothing illegal was committed through these series of transactions, the fact remains that this behavior is not becoming of an elected official of the Japanese people. The payments are relatively small sums of money in the grand scheme of modern corporate finance and political corruption scandals in the past, but this is beside the point. The whole ordeal has become incredibly damaging for the integrated resorts project, and even more embarrassing for Shinzo Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

Japan recently permitted the introduction of the casino industry and the creation of so-called integrated resorts. These multi-faceted venues have already been approved for three cities across the country and will consist of large hotels, conference rooms and casinos. There is a hope that they will reinvigorate the dwindling Japanese tourism industry, and boost the Japanese economy in the wake of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics being postponed.

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