Tsukasa Akimoto, a Japanese lawmaker, has been sentenced to a 4-year jail term. The 49-year-old lawmaker was found guilty of offering a bribe to 500.com (an online gambling site) former advisers so they could give false evidence that would favor him.
Before now, the administration was already facing various criticism over various scandals that involved government officials. Considering that the general election is just by the corner, this is a huge blow.
Following Akimoto’s conviction, his defense team has appealed.
The Genesis of Akimoto’s Conviction
Akimoto’s conviction had to do with his involvement in offering two former advisers of a Chinese company known as 500.com monetary compensation to give false evidence that would favor him. Based on this, the online casinos’ operations were put on hold. According to the court findings, all these occurred in June and July last when Akimoto was released on bail.
The bribery case is linked to the construction of casino resorts in Japan. The public prosecutor prayed the court to convict Akimoto for a five-year prison term and a fine of ¥7.6 million during the trial. After fact findings, the district court ruled that Akimoto had received a bribe worth ¥7.6 million between September 2017 and February 2018 from gambling operators interested in entering the Japanese casino market.
Also, Akimoto’s action in bribing the former advisers of 500.com to give false evidence in court was an “unprecedented obstruction of justice”. Nevertheless, Akimoto denied receiving money bribes and that he never asked the former advisers of the online gambling site 500.com to make false testimony in court. However, Akimoto’s state-paid secretary Akihiro Toyoshima was also indicted for corruption. Toyoshima also got a two years prison term. The 42-year-old Toyoshima has worked with Akimoto for some time as a state-paid secretary.
Nonetheless, Akimoto’s defense team has appealed the ruling. Also, Akimoto’s defense team asked the court to grant him bail, which was granted.
Who Is Tsukasa Akimoto and His Involvement in This Case?
Akimoto headed the government’s initiative to legalize the operation of land-based casinos in the integrated resort project. At that time, Akimoto served as a senior vice minister in the Cabinet Office for a term from September 2017. The Integrated Resort is a government initiative that would comprise new casinos, hotels, and conference facilities.
However, after his arrest in 2019, Akimoto left the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Akimoto was arrested in December 2019 on suspicion of taking bribes from operators who wanted to enter the Japanese casino market.
What’s more, Akimoto has held several positions preceding his arrest in December 2019. Some of the positions Akimoto has held in government are:
Parliamentary Vice-Minister of Defence during the Fukada Cabinet
Parliamentary Vice-Minister of Defence during the Abe Cabinet
State Minister for Lands
State Minister for Construction
No doubt, Akimoto has been an active member of the ruling LDP for a long time. More so, Akimoto has held more than ten positions in government.
Akimoto’s Conviction and the Effect on the Ruling LDP
Some political analysts believe that the conviction of Akimoto may not mean well for the ruling LDP at the general elections set for next year. Analysts consider it a huge blow for the party. Before Akimoto’s conviction, there have been a series of scandals rocking the government.
Not too long ago, two senior officials were convicted for their involvement in election fraud. Former justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai and his wife were convicted sometime this year for their involvement in various electoral frauds. Akimoto is the latest member of the ruling LDP that has been convicted for criminal activity.
The opposition party, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), is already calling for Akimoto’s resignation as a lawmaker. Jun Azumi, the CDP’s Policy chief, made a call after the news of Akimoto’s conviction broke out.
Impact of Akimoto’s Conviction on the Integrated Resort Initiative
The Japanese government’s Integrated Resort initiative will not be affected by Akimoto’s convictions. Besides, most provinces have already chosen companies that will partner with them after a rigorous bidding process.
During the bidding process, some companies pulled out because they alleged that the method used by the Japanese officials was not transparent. Nevertheless, the Integrated Resort project is aimed at building casinos in some selected provinces across Japan. Some analysts expected the Japanese government to legalize online gaming or add it to the Integrated Resort Initiative.
Akimoto’s Case Breaks Japanese Political Party Precedence
In the history of Japan, Akimoto was the first lawmaker to be given a prison sentence without being suspended by the ruling party. Does it mean that the government has so much faith in Akimoto? During an interview, Akimoto hinted that he plans to contest the next house election despite his conviction.