TOKYO: Japanese prosecutors arrested lawmaker Tsukasa Akimoto on Thursday for alleged witness tampering over a high-profile bribery scandal linked to a casino resort.
The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office suspects Akimoto, 48, a member of the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of the Diet, Japan’s parliament, of violating the law against organized crimes. The office did not disclose whether he has admitted to the charges.
Investigators from the prosecutors’ office searched related locations, including Akimoto’s Tokyo office, aiming to find out how he procured funds for the witness tampering by scrutinizing seized materials.
Akimoto has been awaiting trial while on bail on charges of taking bribes related to the casino project. It is extremely rare for a Japanese lawmaker on bail to be rearrested.
He is suspected of having attempted to persuade Masahiko Konno, a former adviser at Chinese company 500.com Ltd., to commit perjury over the bribery case in conspiracy with corporate executives Akihito Awaji, 54, and Fumihiko Sato, 50.
On June 27, the three offered Konno 10 million yen if he gave false testimony in favor of Akimoto. On July 22, they again attempted to coax him to commit perjury in return for 20 million yen, according to the prosecutors’ office.
Akimoto, former state minister at the Cabinet Office in charge of casino policy, has been charged with receiving bribes worth some 7.6 million yen from 500.com, which hoped to operate a casino resort in Japan.
After being released on bail in February, Akimoto met with Awaji and asked for help with the witness tampering, sources familiar with the prosecutors’ investigation said. Akimoto has told Jiji Press that he was not involved in the witness tampering at all.
Opposition lawmakers urged Akimoto to quit the Lower House.
“Akimoto should resign as a lawmaker,” Jun Azumi, Diet affairs chief at the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, told reporters. “We will submit a resolution to demand his resignation unless he quits voluntarily,” Azumi said.
Azumi also said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe bears responsibility for having appointed Akimoto to the post of state minister.
The first court hearing for Konno and Katsunori Nakazato, 48, another former 500.com adviser, both of whom have been charged with bribing Akimoto, is scheduled for Wednesday.
Konno and Nakazato are believed to have visited Akimoto’s office on Sept. 28, 2017, when the Lower House was dissolved for a snap election, and given Akimoto 3 million yen.
Informed sources said Sato met with Konno and asked him to testify in court that he did not meet with Akimoto on the day of the Lower House breakup.
Kazuhiro Miyatake, 49, another company executive, contacted Nakazato. Miyatake has been arrested for allegedly offering to provide money to Nakazato over a long period in return for false testimony.