Lawmaker Tsukasa Akimoto claims innocence in casino bribery cases

A lawmaker charged with bribery asserted his innocence on Friday, saying he did not take any bribes from a Chinese company interested in Japan’s nascent casino market.

“I have never given favors to specific companies,” Tsukasa Akimoto told a news conference in Tokyo, adding he wants to return to his duties in the Lower House in March.

Akimoto was indicted for receiving a total of ¥7.6 million ($69,200) in cash and other gifts from the Chinese firm in 2017 and 2018 while he was playing a major role in spearheading Japan’s move to legalize casino resorts.

The 48-year-old lawmaker, who left the ruling Liberal Democratic Party shortly before his arrest in December, said the ¥2 million that he received on Sept. 1, 2017, was a speaking fee and that he “never considered it a bribe.”

He also denied receiving another ¥3 million in cash from the Chinese company on Sept. 28 that year as alleged.

Japan recently legalized casinos for operation in so-called integrated resorts that include hotels and conference facilities in the hope of attracting more tourism and boosting the economy.

Akimoto, the first lawmaker to be indicted in a decade, oversaw the initiative as a senior vice minister at the Cabinet Office for about a year from September 2017.

While speaking for 20 minutes to almost 100 reporters in an office building for members of the House of Representatives, Akimoto also said he will “focus for the time being on the trial,” pushing back against calls by opposition party lawmakers to give sworn testimony at the Diet.

The charges against Akimoto include trips to China in December 2017 and Hokkaido in February 2018 that were paid by He said at the news conference that he instructed his former secretary to take care of the expenses and that he does not recognize them as constituting special treatment.

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