Several Japanese politicians have come forward to deny to the country’s media that they took bribes in connection with some lobbyists’ alleged efforts to get a casino resort in either Hokkaido prefecture or Okinawa prefecture.
Japanese news reports on Friday – citing “investigative” sources that were not directly identified – had indicated five House of Representatives members had been questioned by Japanese authorities – on a voluntary basis – for their alleged receipt of cash.
The allegations against the five lawmakers reportedly came to light as part of an investigation into another lower house lawmaker Tsukasa Akimoto, who was arrested in late December for allegedly taking bribes from Chinese firm 500.com Ltd in connection with lobbying linked to a so-called integrated resort or “IR” scheme in Hokkaido.
The Chinese firm 500.com issued on December 31 a press release stating it had set up an investigative committee to probe “alleged illegal money transfers” and the role played by some of the firm’s current and former consultants. The company also announced that its chairman had stepped down.
The company said additionally that its board had accepted a request from the firm’s director and chief executive to “temporarily step aside from his positions” until the conclusion of the internal probe “in order to ensure a thorough and fair investigation”.
Masahiko Konno and Katsunori Nakazato, described as advisors in Japan to 500.com, are said by Japanese media to have been cooperating with prosecutors there.
On Friday Japanese media reported that Tokyo District Court had approved a request to extend until January 14 the maximum detention period for Mr Akimoto and three people linked to 500.com who were also arrested on December 25 for allegedly providing him with bribe money.
In late November Hokkaido’s governor said the prefecture would not put itself forward – in the current phase of liberalisation – as a candidate to host a casino resort. In late September, an anti-casino politician was elected to the governorship of Japan’s southernmost prefecture Okinawa, seemingly ruling the prefecture out of the national race to be a host location for a casino resort.
On Saturday, Hiroyuki Nakamura, one of the five House of Representatives lawmakers voluntarily questioned in relation to the investigation, denied any wrongdoing.
“I accepted a legitimate political donation and included the money in a political funds report,” Mr Nakamura said, as quoted by the Jiji Press news agency.
Mr Nakamura, described as a former parliamentary vice minister of education, culture, sports, science and technology, said he accepted JPY2 million (US$18,500) from a Sapporo-based tourism company in September 2017. The company was planning to operate a casino-featuring integrated resort business in the Hokkaido village of Rusutsu.
Also on Saturday, Takeshi Iwaya, a former defence minister of Japan, denied receiving any money in relation to alleged bribery over casino lobbying.
“I absolutely deny it,” said Mr Iwaya, a member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said in a press conference that day, according to local media reports.
“From the perspective of laws regulating political funds as well, it’s impossible that I received donations from a foreign firm,” the media reports quoted him as saying.
Local media had earlier reported that five lawmakers including Mr Iwaya were alleged to have received around JPY1 million each.
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Vitaly Umansky, Eunice Lee and Kelsey Zhu
Sanford Bernstein analysts