A Japanese lawmaker has been arrested on suspicion of accepting bribes worth tens of thousands of dollars from a company that wanted to build a casino, local prosecutors announced on Wednesday.
Tsukasa Akimoto, a former member of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet, received three million yen in cash in 2017, prosecutors said in a statement without identifying the company.
As a senior vice minister in Abe’s cabinet until October, Akimoto oversaw the government’s plan to introduce casinos.
Prosecutors also alleged he was “invited on a trip to Hokkaido… and received the financial benefits worth around 700,000 yen including airfare and accommodation”.
The 48-year-old lawmaker denies wrongdoing, saying he never extended any favours. He resigned from Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party after his arrest.
The arrest could put pressure on the Abe administration, which legalised casinos in 2018 despite bitter opposition.
The three employees of Chinese betting company, 500.com, which allegedly bribed Akimoto, were also detained on Wednesday, according to public broadcaster NHK.
Hours after the arrests, Japanese media also announced that the offices of another lawmaker from Mr Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, Takaki Shirasuka, had been searched as part of the same investigation.
Gambling has a disreputable image in Japan, and opinion polls have suggested that most people there remain opposed to the opening of casinos.