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Japan pachinko operator searched as probe into casino bribery case widens

In this June 15, 2018 file photo, Tsukasa Akimoto, then state minister of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism, is seen during a House of Representatives Cabinet Committee meeting. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO -- Prosecutors have raided the office of a Tokyo company operating a pachinko parlor chain over a consulting contract it signed with a firm run by a former secretary to legislator Tsukasa Akimoto, who is under arrest on suspicion of accepting bribes.

The special investigation unit of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office is questioning the former secretary and other parties over how consulting fees paid by the company's clients were used and the details of its business activities.

The prosecutors are apparently trying to get to the bottom of how Akimoto and his aides were raising political funds for the legislator.

The company searched by the special investigation unit operates a nationwide chain of pachinko parlors. Akimoto, 48, a member of the House of Representatives who left the ruling Liberal Democratic Party over the scandal, is close to the pachinko industry, and has received political donations from another pachinko parlor chain operator and a labor union comprising manufacturers of slot machines.

The company that made the consulting contract with the firm raided by prosecutors was established in 2011 by a man who served as a state-paid policy secretary to Akimoto for many years for the purpose of developing show business entertainers. At one point, Akimoto served as an adviser to the company.

The former secretary stepped down as head of the company in 2017, and was replaced by a former private secretary to Akimoto.

Current and former secretaries to Akimoto are registered as employees of the company and Akimoto and his team apparently decided how to use consulting fees it received from its clients.

The company signed consulting contracts with multiple firms. The special investigation unit raided the two former secretaries' residences and other relevant locations on Dec. 7.

Before his arrest, Akimoto had said, "I'm not involved in its management and don't know the details of its business activities," about the company run by his former secretaries.

Akimoto is under arrest on suspicion of accepting bribes from three individuals -- also arrested for allegedly bribing the lawmaker -- connected with 500.com Ltd., a Chinese company that was seeking favorable treatment in launching an integrated resort project that includes a casino in Japan.

He stands accused of receiving money and other favors worth around 3.7 million yen in 2017-2018 from the three suspects while knowing that their firm sought favorable treatment.

According to individuals familiar with the incident, Akimoto was handed 3 million yen in cash at his office in the Diet Members' Office Building on Sept. 28, 2017, the day when the lower house was dissolved for a snap general election.

At least one of the suspects linked to 500.com has apparently admitted to the allegations and is providing a detailed explanation of the case.

The Tokyo District Court decided on Dec. 26 to approve the detention of Akimoto for 10 days until Jan. 4.

(Japanese original by Kazuhiro Toyama, Kim Suyeong and Kazuya Shimura, City News Department)

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