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Bribery suspect linked to casino firm claims payoffs to 5 other Japan lawmakers

In this Dec. 9, 2019 file photo, House of Representatives member Tsukasa Akimoto, center, is seen at a plenary session of the chamber. (Mainichi/Naoaki Hasegawa)

TOKYO -- An individual linked to a Chinese company who allegedly bribed legislator Tsukasa Akimoto over a project to open an "integrated" casino resort in Japan has told prosecutors that he handed over some 1 million yen (about $9,250) each to five other lawmakers, including former Cabinet ministers, investigative sources said.

The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office special investigation unit suspects that the Chinese company, 500.com Ltd., attempted to win favour across a broad swathe of Japan's political class for its bid to join a casino resort project. Prosecutors are apparently probing whether the money was actually given to the five other politicians.

Katsunori Nakazato, 47, an adviser to 500.com and a former member of the Urasoe Municipal Assembly in Okinawa Prefecture, has claimed that he provided about 1 million yen each to the five National Diet members.

According to the sources, the five legislators suspected of accepting money include some elected from constituencies in the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido and the southernmost prefecture of Okinawa, where 500.com was aiming to get in on a casino resort project. At least one of them is a high-ranking member of a nonpartisan parliamentary league promoting the resorts. Four of the five lawmakers are members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) while the other belongs to conservative opposition Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party).

Among the five lawmakers, two previously served as Cabinet ministers and anther is a sitting parliamentary secretary. Moreover, one of the five has been grilled in the Diet over allegations that a person linked to the casino business bought tickets to a fundraising party for the legislator.

A note that appears to support Nakazato's claim has been found on an electronic device at 500.com. The money apparently came from over 10 million yen that a person connected to 500.com had brought into Japan without notifying customs authorities. The Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Act requires those who bring cash or goods worth 1 million yen or more into Japan to notify customs.

Nakazato, along with two others, is charged with handing 3 million yen in cash and goods as a bribe to Akimoto, 48, a member of the House of Representatives, at his office in the Diet Members' Office Building in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Sept. 28, 2017. This was the same day the chamber was dissolved for a snap general election. Nakazato is quoted as telling investigators that he handed cash to the other five around this time.

Akimoto, until recently a member of the LDP, served as state minister of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism and state minister of the Cabinet Office. When a bill to promote the development of casino resorts was passed in the lower house Cabinet Committee in December 2016, Akimoto was chairing the panel.

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

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