In a corruption case regarding the establishment of so-called "integrated resorts (IR)," House of Representatives member Tsukasa Akimoto, who had been charged with receiving bribes, has been released on bail.
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He is said to be fully denying the charges, and is intending to attend the ongoing ordinary session of the Diet. In that case, he should thoroughly explain the scandal in the Diet.
Akimoto was indicted on suspicion of accepting a total of approximately 7.6 million yen worth of bribes from Chinese company 500.com, which was aiming to enter the casino business in Japan.
However, Akimoto has denied that the handover of 3 million yen in cash that is said to have taken place on the day that the lower house was dissolved in 2017 ever took place, and has also argued that the payoff of 2 million yen that he received for giving a speech as having been "justified remuneration."
It has already come to light that Akimoto had close ties with 500.com when he was state minister in charge of integrated resorts. In addition to visiting the company's China headquarters, Akimoto inquired with the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism whether it would be possible to build an airport adjacent to the site where 500.com planned to construct a casino.
It is necessary for Akimoto to explain to the public what kind of relationship he had with 500.com. The investigation into the lawmaker has reached the end of a chapter, and the excuse that any remarks he makes in public may influence the trial will not hold any water.
In response to the scandal, there has been renewed debate in the Diet on the pros and cons of lifting the ban on casinos. Akimoto was one of those responsible for promoting laying down a legal framework for so-called IR casino resorts.
Opposition parties are calling for Akimoto to provide sworn testimony in the Diet. The Diet has a responsibility to shed light on the truth separate from the courts. Although Akimoto left the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) after his arrest, the LDP should comply with the summoning of Akimoto as a sworn witness.
Akimoto's release on bail was just nine days after he was indicted for a second time. That was an exceptionally short time for a Diet member denying the indictment charges against him for a graft case. There has been a recent trend in the courts in which the release on bail is widely approved out of consideration for trial preparations. Akimoto's case seems to have been part of that trend.
Additionally, five Diet members have been questioned by the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office's special investigative unit for each accepting 1 million yen from 500.com. Some even accompanied Akimoto to China. These legislators also have a duty to offer detailed explanations in the Diet.
There has been case after case in which Diet members in the midst of scandals go on with their political lives without offering sufficient explanations. Former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai and his wife, House of Councillors member Anri Kawai, had their offices searched on suspicion of violating the Public Offices Election Act. Former Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Isshu Sugawara is also suspected of violating the Public Offices Election Act.
If these Diet members truly are representatives of the people, they must not turn their backs on opportunities to explain themselves in the Diet.