Not only does this individual completely lack ethics as a public official, but we must also say he is without even an iota of respect for the law.
These scathing words of censure were delivered by the judiciary to Tsukasa Akimoto, a sitting Lower House lawmaker and former member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
The Tokyo District Court on Sept. 7 sentenced Akimoto to four years in prison for bribery and witness tampering in relation to a casino development scandal.
In 2017 and 2018, when Akimoto served in the Cabinet Office as a vice minister overseeing the government’s plan to set up integrated resorts, he accepted more than 7 million yen ($63,480) in bribes from a Chinese gaming company seeking to participate in the program. And later, according to prosecutors, Akimoto also offered monetary rewards to witnesses in exchange for testifying falsely in court.
Witness tampering became a crime punishable by law in 2017 under a bill sponsored by the government and ruling parties aimed at cracking down harder on organized crime. At the time, Akimoto was still with the LDP. And ironically, Akimoto became the first person to be tried for this crime.
This same individual, who brought disgrace upon his office and schemed to defy the nation’s judicial system, still wears a Diet member’s badge, but the LDP is just letting him be.
Even though Akimoto continues to protest his innocence and is appealing the verdict, as he has every right to do so, we still believe the LDP should take responsibility for having appointed him as the overseer of the IR program. It can do this by urging him to do the right thing, carrying out an investigation into the scandal and disclosing the outcome to the public.
The IR program was vigorously promoted by the Abe administration as the centerpiece of its economic growth strategy. But the novel coronavirus pandemic to all intents and purposes has demolished expectations that foreign visitors would spend lavishly at integrated resort complexes that combine international convention centers, hotels and casinos.
In fact, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga himself effectively admitted the IR program was already doomed when he endorsed an anti-IR candidate in the Yokohama mayoral election last month.
Under the schedule set up by the government, it will start accepting applications next month from local administrative bodies seeking to participate in the program. The government needs to squarely face recent developments and backtrack on its policy at once.
Interested local governments also need to rethink things, too.
Three parties have applied to date–the Osaka prefectural and municipal governments, Wakayama and Nagasaki prefectures–but each entity should review its plans from scratch and assess if a casino will really lead to regional revitalization.
One condition for filing an application is that public hearings must be held before the local assembly votes in favor of the program. In that process, it is crucial that every imaginable demerit be fully disclosed for extensive public debate.
In particular, concerns about gambling addiction cannot be overstressed.
Last month, the health ministry announced the results of its first survey on gambling addiction since the basic IR program law took effect in 2018.
The survey found that in the past year, 2.2 percent of those aged 18 to 74 had problems stemming from addiction to gambling. This number translates into nearly 2 million Japanese, and is said to be higher than in many other nations.
Years have passed since alarms were raised that casinos will follow other traditional forms of gambling such as pachinko, slots and horse racing in generating new addicts, who in turn may well become mired on multiple debts, abusers and even kill themselves.
What “growth” is worth pursuing at the price of bringing misery to citizens?
It is time to give this issue serious thought.
–The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 8