The idea of bringing integrated resorts (IR) to Japan to allow casino gambling has been tossed around for more than 20 years. However, it wasn’t until a few years ago that the plan gained enough traction for it to be accepted. The entire time, opponents argued that bringing casinos into the country would only lead to malfeasance and all forms of public corruption. While supporters countered that this wasn’t going to happen, one lawmaker proved the opposition right. Then, several other politicians reinforced the negativity. Now, Tsukasa Akimoto, the disgraced former member of Japan’s lower house of parliament, is headed to jail for accepting bribes in an IR scheme perpetrated by China-based 500.com.
Japanese Politician Heads to Jail
Akimoto was busted over the bribery claims in 2019. He was accused of working with 500.com as the company tried to gain favors for a place in Japan’s IR industry, hoping to build a resort in Hokkaido. While he tried to claim his innocence, a subsequent investigation and admissions by some of those involved made his words worthless. By the time the investigation was over, another five lawmakers would be caught up in the scandal, with a sixth, Mikio Shimoji, being expelled from the House of Representatives after admitting to receiving campaign contributions from 500.com.
According to Japanese media, Akimoto is now preparing to trade in his suits and ties for prison garb and a cot. The Tokyo District Court has sentenced him to four years in jail, without suspension. He will also have to pay a fine worth $68,300. Prosecutors had hoped to put him away for five years, so he got off a little light.
The Undoing of a Parliamentary Darling
Akimoto had enjoyed a successful profile before his fall from grace. He was involved in politics since 004, when he was elected to the national Diet for the first time, and held several influential positions during his tenure. However, when he was appointed to help run Japan’s IR plans, his run at the top became a downward spiral.
Akimoto was accused of having accepted $68,300 (7.5 million yen, the amount of the fine) from Masahiko Konno and Katsunori Nakazato, two “advisors” working for 500.com in 2017. The goal was to give the company an advantage as it looked to be considered for an IR in Hokkaido. The efforts were all in vain, however, as Hokkaido never made it to the list of potential host locations for a new resort after it decided to retreat. That exit came before the bribery charges came to light.
After the scandal surfaced, Konno and Nakazato were found guilty of their involvement and received suspended prison sentences. However, Akimoto wasn’t so lucky. He didn’t get off so lucky, in part, because he reportedly tried to pay the two to change their testimony in his case.
Even today, over two years after Japan’s IR project began, the fate of it is still unclear.