Japan politician arrested for suspected bribes over casinos

Tsukasa Akimoto oversaw government's plans to open casinos in Japan, a highly controversial policy.

    The arrest of the ruling party politician drew criticism from opponents of casinos, which have been consistently unpopular in Japan despite the government's push to have them in operation during the early 2020s [File: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg]
    The arrest of the ruling party politician drew criticism from opponents of casinos, which have been consistently unpopular in Japan despite the government's push to have them in operation during the early 2020s [File: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg]

    Japanese authorities arrested ruling party politician Tsukasa Akimoto on Wednesday on suspicion of accepting bribes from a company interested in setting up a casino in Japan, Tokyo prosecutors said.

    Akimoto, a member of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party, was a a senior vice minister in the Cabinet Office until October 2018 and oversaw government policy on casinos. He is suspected of receiving 3 million yen ($27,500) in cash from three suspects, knowing their company wanted help with a casino bid, prosecutors said.

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    The three suspects were also arrested on suspicion of bribery, prosecutors said. No one was available for comment at Akimoto's office, Reuters reported. The lawmaker, whose office was raided by prosecutors last week, has repeatedly denied wrongdoing.

    The arrest could harden opposition to casinos, which have been consistently unpopular in Japan despite the government's push to have them in operation during the early 2020s.

    The government sees casinos anchoring "integrated resorts" that include shopping outlets and hotels and would be aimed at bolstering local economies, tourism and tax revenue.

    "This shakes the foundation of the government's integrated-resort policy," Kazuhiro Haraguchi, parliamentary affairs chief for the opposition Democratic Party For the People, told Kyodo News.

    "If a deputy minister in the Cabinet Office with authority (over the casino issue) used his position to get money, it would be outrageous."

    An opinion poll in October by Jiji news found 57.9 percent opposition to integrated resorts versus 26.6 percent support.

    SOURCE: Reuters news agency