A former adviser to Chinese online sports lottery operator 500.com is suspected to have entered Japan with more than JPY20 million in cash in violation of the country’s foreign exchange law to allegedly bribe lawmakers as the company he worked for sought to establish an integrated casino resort in Hokkaido.
According to Tokyo prosecutors tasked with overseeing the investigation into a bribery case involving high-profile Japanese legislators, Masahiko Konno, a former adviser to 500.com, took out JPY22.5 million from a bank account in Hong Kong in late September 2017 and then flew to Kansai International Airport in Japan’s Osaka Prefecture with the cash.
Mr. Konno is also believed to have visited the Tokyo office of Japanese lawmaker Tsukasa Akimoto together with Katsunori Nakazato, another 500.com adviser, on the day he arrived in Japan, and to have handed Mr. Akimoto JPY3 million as political donation. However, the two advisers are suspected to have asked the legislator for favors as their company was seeking to participate in an integrated casino resort scheme in Hokkaido.
Mr. Akimoto is a former member of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party and a former senior vice minister at the Cabinet Office who oversaw the creation of a draft policy focusing on the legalization of casinos and the implementation of a plan for the development of integrated resorts with dedicated casino space around Japan. The lawmaker was arrested on December 25, 2019 over suspicions that he took bribes from 500.com representatives to back the company’s casino resort bid.
Foreigners Cannot Make Political Donations
As mentioned earlier, by entering Japan with more than JPY20 million in cash, the 500.com adviser violated the country’s foreign exchange law. However, the Chinese gambling company he represented breached other Japanese laws, as well. Under those laws, foreign nationals and foreign organizations cannot make political donations.
Mr. Konno, along with Mr. Nakazato and one other 500.com adviser, were arrested late last year for their alleged participation in the bribery scandal.
Tokyo prosecutors have also interrogated five other lawmakers who allegedly took JPY1 million each from 500.com to spearhead the company’s participation in the casino race. Some of those five lawmakers were part of a cross-party group of legislators that promoted the establishment of integrated resorts in Japan in a bid to boost the nation’s international tourism.
One of the five voluntarily interrogated lawmakers – Mikio Shimoji – admitted to taking JPY1 million in cash from 500.com advisers. Mr. Shimoji was recently ousted from his party, Nippon Ishin no Kai, due to his involvement in the bribery case. He told local media last week that he was yet to decide whether he would resign as a lawmaker. He currently serves in the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of Japan’s parliament.
Meanwhile, it emerged over the weekend that Mr. Akimoto would be handed another arrest warrant this week. Earlier this month, the Tokyo District Court extended his detention through January 14 and it is believed he will be served his new arrest warrant by that date.
Mr. Akimoto and four of the five voluntarily interrogated lawmakers denied taking bribes from 500.com.