Lawmaker faces ruling in casino resort graft case

The Tokyo District Court will hand down a ruling on Tuesday on a Lower House member who is accused of taking bribes in connection with government-led integrated resort projects and of tampering with witnesses.

Akimoto Tsukasa has pleaded not guilty to both charges.
He formerly served as state minister of the Cabinet Office in charge of integrated resorts, which include casinos.

Akimoto was indicted for allegedly taking bribes worth around 7.6 million yen, or about 70,000 dollars, from a Chinese firm that was seeking to enter the resort business. He is also accused of asking those who allegedly bribed him to give false testimony in court in return for cash.

Prosecutors have requested a 5-year prison term and forfeiture of the amount of money that allegedly changed hands.

They said Akimoto received bribes without hesitation despite his status as the state minister in charge of casino resorts, and that he contacted people involved in the case as soon as he was released on bail. They called the actions unusually malicious.

Akimoto denied all charges, saying he had never acted in the interest of a single company and that the allegations listed in the indictment were unthinkable considering the kind of political activities he had been engaged in.

The bribery scandal came to light amid a government push to introduce integrated resorts with casinos into Japan as part of its growth strategy.

If Akimoto is convicted of bribery, he will lose his Diet seat, and he will temporarily lose his civil rights to vote and to run in elections if a prison sentence is finalized, even if it is suspended.

In addition to the lawmaker, nine others were charged. Eight -- including those who offered the bribes -- have been found guilty and their rulings have been finalized. The remaining defendant is Akimoto's former secretary, who also faces a ruling on Tuesday.