Japanese lawmaker and former casino regulator Tsukasa Akimoto was sentenced Tuesday to four years in prison and was ordered to pay fines in connection with a highly-publicized bribery scandal, according to news reports.
Akimoto, 49, was convicted of accepting about 7.6 million yen (US $69,200) in bribes from 500.com, a China-based online gambling operator, that wanted to expand in Japan, the Associated Press said.
Prosecutors claim Akimoto allegedly accepted cash and gifts from 500.com between 2017 and 2018 while involved in the process to legalize casinos in Japan. 500.com had set up a subsidiary in Tokyo to pursue a casino resort in the ski-resort village of Rusutsu, Hokkaido.
On Tuesday, Tokyo Judge Toshihiko Niwa ordered Akimoto to pay the bribery amount as a fine. In addition, the court found Akimoto guilty of charges he offered bribes to witnesses to falsify their court testimony.
Statements of those who admitted to providing cash were fully credible as they were strongly supported by objective evidence,” Niwa said during the sentencing.
Akimoto’s attorneys said they are appealing the case. Akimoto has maintained his innocence during the trial.
“I have never given favors to specific companies,” Akimoto was quoted by the Japan Times during a press conference last year.
Akimoto was a senior vice minister in Japan’s Cabinet where he oversaw the legalization process of integrated resorts between 2017 and 2018.
Prosecutors wanted Akimoto to be sentenced to five years in prison. Initially, he was arrested in December 2019.
Akimoto this week said he still plans to run again for a spot in the upcoming lower house election, Kyodo News, a Japanese news organization, said. Because of the scandal, Akimoto resigned from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
Other Defendants Convicted
Last year, 500.com advisors Masahiko Konno and Katsunori Nakazato admitted they bribed Akimoto in return for favorable treatment.
In total, four defendants were found guilty of giving bribes to Akimoto and another four were found guilty in the witness tampering case, Kyodo News reported.
Akihiro Toyoshima, who had worked as an aide to Akimoto, was one of those accused in the bribery case.
But he was given a suspended sentence.
Japan Plans to Approve IR Licenses
A 2018 national integrated resort (IR) law authorized up to three casinos in Japan. But with only three cities remaining interested, and only one globally recognized casino operator in the running, analysts believe that Japan’s government might delay issuing the concession.
Earlier, it was anticipated that the government’s Casino Administration Committee would begin fielding IR schemes in October, and welcome proposals through April of 2022.
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