Photo/IllutrationTakeshi Iwaya, a former defense minister, meets with reporters in Beppu, Oita Prefecture, on Jan. 4. (Jun Kaneko)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

Three ruling party lawmakers implicated in a scandal involving a Chinese gambling operator vehemently denied taking bribes from the company that sought to make inroads in Japan and operate a casino as part of an integrated resort.

Takeshi Iwaya, a former defense minister, held a news conference in Beppu, Oita Prefecture, on the main southern island of Kyushu, on Jan. 4 to categorically deny receiving money from the Chinese company, 500.com.

Lower House member Tsukasa Akimoto, 48, was arrested on Dec. 25 on suspicion of receiving 3.7 million yen ($34,000) in bribes from 500.com.

Akimoto quit the Liberal Democratic Party after his arrest and has denied all allegations against him.

Arrested at the same time on suspicion of handing out the bribes were three individuals with links to 500.com, including Katsunori Nakazato, 47, a former member of the Urasoe city assembly in Okinawa Prefecture who served as a company adviser.

According to sources, Nakazato, during the course of questioning by prosecutors, named five lawmakers in addition to Akimoto as the recipients of funds that originated from 500.com.

Iwaya, 62, was one of those named, along with Hiroyuki Nakamura, 58, and Masahisa Miyazaki, 54.

Nakamura posted a comment on his own blog on Jan. 4 denying any wrongdoing.

Miyazaki, for his part, issued a statement on Jan. 3 flatly denying receiving money from the company.

Nakazato told prosecutors that about 1 million yen each was given to the five lawmakers. One other lawmaker also belongs to the LDP, while the fifth Diet member is from Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party).

In his news conference, Iwaya was asked if he had been in contact with anyone from 500.com. He said he had no such recollection, but acknowledged that among the many individuals he had exchanged business cards with in his capacity as a Diet member some may have had ties to the company.

Iwaya insisted he was never asked for any favors by the Chinese company.

He said it was inconceivable that he would accept any underhand funds since the Political Fund Control Law bans donations from foreign nationals or foreign companies.

For his part, Nakamura, who represents the No. 4 district of Hokkaido, listed on the political fund report for the LDP branch that he heads a 2-million-yen donation from an executive of a Sapporo tourism company on Oct. 2, 2017.

Three days later, Nakamura made a 1-million yen donation to the LDP branch headed by Iwaya.

The Sapporo company had plans to operate an integrated resort along with 500.com in Rusutsu, Hokkaido. That link has led prosecutors to suspect that the donations originated with the Chinese company, the sources said.

With regard to the 1-million-yen donation from Nakamura, Iwaya said that he was offered the donation as a gesture of appreciation after he spoke at a fund-raising party for Nakamura in August 2017.

"(But) if the money originated from a Chinese company, I would naturally return it," he added.

At the time the donation was made, Iwaya was a high-ranking member of a multipartisan group of lawmakers pushing to develop integrated resorts.

In his blog, Nakamura said that when he was offered the donation from the Sapporo tourism company no mention was made of 500.com, so he concluded the funds were aboveboard as they were made in the name of the company boss.

Nakamura also explained that he was introduced to officials of 500.com by the tourism company during an August 2017 seminar. He said that 500.com officials visited his Diet member's office in Tokyo a number of times, but he only met directly with them three times to exchange greetings.

Miyazaki admitted to knowing Nakazato but said in the statement that the relationship was not one that would lead to a donation from him. Miyazaki also said there would have been no point in 500.com giving him any kind of donation as he had not been involved in legislative debate on integrated resorts in 2017.

Miyazaki currently serves as parliamentary secretary in the Justice Ministry.