Tokyo prosecutors, who arrested lawmaker Tsukasa Akimoto last month, have obtained the names of five other Lower House members who are believed to have received about 1 million yen ($9,237) each from a Chinese company.
Among the five was Mikio Shimoji, who submitted his resignation to the opposition Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) after admitting to taking the money and failing to report it in his political funds statement.
The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors’ Office has digital records that match the lawmakers’ names, which were provided by an adviser to the Chinese company. Shimoji’s admission further lends credibility to the claims.
The Chinese company, 500.com, is suspected of giving bribes to Akimoto in its quest to operate a casino in Japan.
In Shimoji’s case, he might have violated the Political Fund Control Law by receiving a cash donation from a foreign enterprise and failing to report it.
Nippon Ishin leader Ichiro Matsui has dealt severely with Shimoji, suggesting he should resign from both the Diet and the party.
However, the party has consistently advocated casino-related integrated resort development projects, and we must question Matsui’s integrity and responsibility as the party head.
He will never win the understanding of the public unless he tries to get to the bottom of the scandal instead of just punishing a wayward party member.
The remaining four legislators named, all members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, have denied receiving money from 500.com.
However, their denials are highly dubious.
Hiroyuki Nakamura, one of the four, is the parliamentary secretary for education, culture, sports, science and technology.
According to the 2017 accounting report prepared by an LDP branch office presided over by Nakamura, a 2-million-yen donation was received in early October from a senior executive of a tourism enterprise that works with 500.com on casino-related integrated resort development projects.
Immediately after this donation, 1 million yen was transferred from the LDP branch office to the office of former Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya’s support group. The timing coincides with the period during which Akimoto and Shimoji allegedly received cash from the company.
Nakamura and Iwaya explained that the money that Nakamura’s office received was a donation from private individuals, and the payment to Iwaya was remuneration for a lecture he gave.
But how many people really believe that explanation?
The scandal is definitely growing, but the Shinzo Abe administration continues to look the other way. We are appalled.
Abe made no mention whatsoever of this scandal in his New Year’s news conference, and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga merely responded with formulaic comments to questions from the media.
And on Jan. 7, the government set up a commission at the Cabinet Office as scheduled to oversee casino-related regulations.
In the backdrop, Akimoto, the die-hard champion of integrated resort development projects who steamrolled legislation to legalize casinos as chairman of the Lower House Cabinet Commission, was in jail. In addition, a former Cabinet minister and a sitting parliamentary secretary of a ministry, among others, have submitted to voluntary questioning by prosecutors.
In short, the fundamental legitimacy of integrated resort development projects as part of the government’s long-term growth strategy is being scrutinized.
Surely, the administration’s foremost responsibility should now be to acknowledge the gravity of this situation and face the public accordingly.
The government’s plan is to determine the basic direction of its policy, including the standards by which to select casino operators, before the end of this month.
But now that shady monetary transactions have come to light, the newly formed commission’s operation should be put on hold until the entire scandal has been examined thoroughly.
Opposition parties are prepared to jointly submit a bill to kill the integrated resort development legislation.
Does Japan really need casinos? It is time to revive and again deliberate this fundamental question, which was once forcibly thrown out from the Diet by the government and the ruling coalition.