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Working Timeline of the Casino Bribery Scandal

SNA (Tokyo) — The 500 Dot Com casino bribery scandal was yet another instance of major corruption that emerged in the Shinzo Abe era. The following is a working timeline which the Shingetsu News Agency intends to update in the weeks and months ahead.

2016

December: The Integrated Resorts Promotion Act passed by the Diet over the strong opposition. Tsukasa Akimoto, an outspoken proponent of casino legalization serving as chairman of the House of Representatives Cabinet Committee, cut off deliberations after about five and a half hours and forced a vote in which the ruling party prevailed.

2017

July: Shenzhen-based lottery firm 500 Dot Com established a subsidiary in Tokyo for the purpose of seeking to enter the Japanese Integrated Resorts market. Shortly thereafter, 500 Dot Com managers reached out to Akimoto, seeking his assistance.

August: On August 4, 500 Dot Com CEO Zhengming Pan held a press conference in Naha in which he revealed his interest in investing in a prospective Okinawa Integrated Resort. Pan estimated that his investment could be in the US$2.5 billion range. When asked why he thought this was possible at a time when Governor Takeshi Onaga opposed casino development, Pan responded, “We need a debate about the reasons for the opposition. We can bring cutting edge technology to the Japan IR business and the issue of gambling addiction through the use of big data and artificial intelligence.” Akimoto was the keynote speaker at the event, and also participating was the chairman of previous Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima’s committee investigating the possibility of hosting an Integrated Resort in the prefecture. Prosecutors later alleged that the money Akimoto received for speaking at the Okinawa event was intended as a bribe. Indeed, the prosecutors believed that 500 Dot Com had originally planned to pay Akimoto a lower fee, but that they multiplied the amount when they learned that he had just been appointed senior vice-minister at the Cabinet Office in charge of Integrated Resorts policy in a Cabinet reshuffle.

September: On September 1, Akimoto allegedly received a US$18,000 money transfer via the bank account Tokyo-based entertainment firm, AT Enterprise, set up by his former policy secretary, Akihiro Toyoshima. This was later described as “speaking fees” for the Okinawa event. On September 28, 500 Dot Com adviser Masahiko Konno allegedly withdrew US$207,000 in cash from a Hong Kong bank and illegally brought the money into Japan through Kansai International Airport. Later the same day, in which the dissolution of the Diet had occurred ahead of general elections, Konno and his colleague, Katsunori Nakazato, visited Akimoto’s office and allegedly gave him an additional US$27,500 in cash. Later, Nakazato allegedly delivered smaller bribes of US$9,200 each to five other lawmakers: Takeshi Iwaya, Toshimitsu Funahashi, Hiroyuki Nakamura, and Masahisa Miyazaki of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party; as well as Mikio Shimoji of the Osaka-based Japan Innovation Party.

December: From December 27 to 29, Akimoto and two of his junior ruling party colleagues, Takaki Shirasuka and Shigeaki Katsunuma, visited the 500 Dot Com offices in Shenzhen aboard a private jet arranged by 500 Dot Com. They also visited Macau, where they toured an Integrated Resort operated by Melco Resorts & Entertainment. Prosecutors later alleged that the whole trip was paid for by 500 Dot Com, and that Akimoto’s claim that he reimbursed the expenses was a deception.

2018

January: Executives of 500 Dot Com and its potential Japanese partner, Kamori Kanko, met with officials of Rusutsu village, Hokkaido, about their proposal to seek an Integrated Resort license within the municipality. A press announcement declared the formation of a US$1.5 billion investment agreement between Kamori Kanko, 500 Dot Com, Sequoia Capital China, Vision Knight Capital, and SIG Asia Investments. 500 Dot Com CEO Pan stated at the press conference, “Rusutsu village is the place for a new resort making use of the natural environment.”

February: Executives of Kamori Kanko arrange a meeting between Akimoto and officials of Rusutsu village, apparently as part of an effort to demonstrate that the Integrated Resort initiative had central government support. Prosecutors later alleged that Akimoto received US$6,400 in travel expenses from 500 Dot Com which also constituted a bribe. After the meeting, Akimoto allegedly accepted a request from Kamori Kanko to facilitate an introduction to the Transport Ministry department in charge of airport construction, and Akimoto personally made enquiries to the department regarding the feasibility of building a small airport at Rusutsu for the jets of wealthy travelers.

July: 500 Dot Com CEO Pan visited Okinawa to renew his pitch to build a casino resort in the prefecture, this time bringing along potential partner, Kevin McGowen, CEO of Les Ambassadeurs Club in London. Their vision is to tie up in a consortium with local businesses for an investment of up to US$2.7 billion. McGowen was quoted as saying, “We’d like to offer a high-end casino compatible with Okinawa’s history and tradition.” On July 20, the IR Implementation Act was passed by the Diet with the support of the ruling coalition and the Japan Innovation Party.

October: A Cabinet reshuffle left Akimoto in place as senior vice-minister at the Cabinet Office, but his portfolio no longer included Integrated Resorts policy.

2019

September: A Cabinet reshuffle brings to an end Akimoto’s service as senior vice-minister at the Cabinet Office.

December 7 and 8 – The special investigation unit of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office raided the homes of two former secretaries to Akimoto, including Toyoshima.

December 9 – Akimoto told Japanese journalists that the raids had nothing to do with him and the story was not immediately reported by the mainstream media.

December 17 – The first appearance of the scandal finally came to public light when the raids on the aides’ homes were reported, and prosecutors leaked that the investigation was in connection with an excessive amount of cash being brought into Japan without notifying customs in advance, in violation of the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Act. While it was explained that the incident was connected to agents of a Shenzhen-based firm interested in the Japanese Integrated Resorts market, the Japanese media refused to name the company.

December 19 – Prosecutors raided two of Akimoto’s offices in Tokyo, making explicit that he was a focus of the investigation. Akimoto tweeted the same day, “I’ve never been involved in a fraudulent act. I’ll argue that point at any cost.”

December 25 – Tokyo prosecutors arrested Akimoto on suspicion of receiving US$33,800 in bribes and began to hold him in detention. He was the first serving lawmaker to be arrested in almost a decade. After his arrest, he was somehow able to communicate his intention to resign from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Also arrested were three agents of 500 Dot Com: Zheng Xi, a former executive of the company’s Japan unit; as well as Konno and Nakazato, who both served as advisers. Hours later, prosecutors raid the Tokyo and Chiba offices of another ruling party lawmaker, Shirasuka. The mainstream media began to publicly identify 500 Dot Com as the suspected source of the bribes. In a press conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga waved off the significance of the arrests for national policy, stating that the government “will steadily push ahead with it so that benefits from building IRs will be reaped as soon as possible.” Jun Azumi, chairman of the Diet Affairs Committee of the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan called for a meeting of the House of Representatives Cabinet Committee by the end of the year to examine its deliberation process on the Integrated Resort legislation.

December 26 – Tokyo District Court set a ten-day detention period for Akimoto and the others, set to expire on January 4. Prosecutors raided that offices of the pachinko firm Gaia, with which AT Enterprise had business dealings from 2017 to 2019, and with Akimoto himself having served as a consultant. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party rejected the opposition demand for a meeting of the House of Representatives Cabinet Committee by the end of the year. Opposition parties established headquarters for investigating the casino bribery scandal.

December 29 – Prosecutors leak allegation that Akimoto’s private political office may have diverted money from AT Enterprise to pay the salaries of his private secretaries, in a possible violation of the Political Funds Control Law.

December 31 – 500 Dot Com, which had to this point maintained public silence, announced that the firm’s chairman, Xudong Chen, had resigned the previous day, and that CEO Zhengming Pan would “temporarily step aside” to allow the company’s new Special Investigation Committee to conduct its own in-house probe of the bribery allegations.

2020

January 2 – The story about Katsunori Nakazato allegedly bribing five additional lawmakers (Takeshi Iwaya, Toshimitsu Funahashi, Hiroyuki Nakamura, and Masahisa Miyazaki of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party; as well as Mikio Shimoji of the Osaka-based Japan Innovation Party) hit the media, greatly expanding the political significance of the scandal.

January 3 – Tokyo District Court extended by fourteen days the detention of the four suspects.

January 4 – Former Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya, the most senior of the ruling party lawmakers facing bribery allegations, categorically denied the charge to the media: “I never received money. I was never asked to do something nor did a favor,” he declared.

January 6 – House of Representatives Okinawa lawmaker Mikio Shimoji admits to the media that he had received US$9,200 in cash from 500 Dot Com in September 2017, but claims that he didn’t understand it to be a bribe.

January 7 – Shimoji submits a letter of resignation to the Osaka-based Japan Innovation Party. The Casino Regulatory Commission, an independent agency under the auspices of the Cabinet Office, is officially launched, provoking another round of condemnation from the opponents of casino legalization.

January 8 – Toshimitsu Funahashi became the first ruling party lawmaker to admit receiving US$9,200 in late September 2017, but he claimed it was a legal donation from Kamori Kanko, not an illegal bribe from 500 Dot Com. “I have never received even 1 yen from anyone involved with a Chinese company,” he declared. The Japan Innovation Party refuses to accept the resignation of Shimoji and instead expels him from the party. Shimoji remained in the Diet as an independent lawmaker.

January 14 – Akimoto is indicted on a bribery charge and served with a fresh arrest warrant for allegedly receiving an additional US$18,000 in bribes disguised as “speaking fees” from 500 Dot Com at the beginning of September 2017, as well as letting the Chinese firm cover the estimated US$13,750 incurred by his December 2017 visit to Shenzhen and Macau. Akimoto maintained his complete innocence of all charges. Five others were also indicted: Xi, Konno, and Nakazato of 500 Dot Com; as well as Akimoto’s former secretary Toyoshima and Kamori Kanko Chairman Kimihito Kamori. The latter two were indicted without arrest.

January 15 – Prosecutors leaked to the media that 500 Dot Com was suspected of issuing fake receipts to Akimoto to cover up that fact that the Chinese firm had paid all the expenses of his December 2017 trip to Shenzhen and Macau. They also alleged that 500 Dot Com had bought gifts for Akimoto in Macau at his direction, such as luxury brand shoes and an expensive bag.

January 16 – 500 Dot Com announced that it had retained King & Wood Mallesons as legal adviser to assist with its internal investigation of the bribery allegations.

January 17 – Tokyo prosecutors raid the Tokyo office of Melco Resorts & Entertainment to probe for more information about the December 2017 visit to Macau by lawmakers Akimoto, Shirasuka, and Katsunuma, which took place at of the company’s Integrated Resorts.

January 20 – The Ordinary Diet Session begins, and opposition parties immediately submit a bill that would reverse the legalization of casino gambling. The Abe government lets it be known that it will delay publication of the IR Basic Plan, which is the government’s first concession to public opinion on the bribery scandal.

February 2 – 500 Dot Com announced that former CEO Zhengming Pan had entirely resigned from the company.

February 3 – Akimoto is indicted a second time on bribery charges related to his December 2017 travel expenses, tips he paid at the Melco casino, and luxury items he received as gifts from 500 Dot Com. Akimoto’s lawyer requests to the court that he be released from detention.

February 4 – Xi is released from detention.

February 7 – Konno is released on bail in the amount of US$55,000.

February 10 – The Tokyo District Court approves bail for Akimoto in the amount of US$275,000. Prosecutors immediately appeal. Nakazato is released on bail in the amount of US$55,000.

February 12 – Akimoto is released on bail after about a month and a half in detention.

February 14 – Akimoto held press conference reasserting his complete innocence. He said the September 2017 speaking fee was just a speaking fee, and he denied the allegation that he accepted cash payments in his office later that month. “I have never given favors to specific companies,” he declared.

To be continued…

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