Photo/IllutrationMikio Shimoji, a Lower House member from Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party), holds a news conference in Naha on Jan. 6 and admits to receiving money from an adviser to a Chinese company. (Motoki Nagasawa)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Lawmaker Mikio Shimoji on Jan. 6 admitted to receiving money from an individual connected with a Chinese company, the first such acknowledgment in a growing casino-related bribery scandal.

Shimoji, a member of opposition Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party), told a news conference in Naha that he received 1 million yen ($9,200) from Masahiko Konno, who was an adviser to 500.com, in October 2017.

At the time, Shimoji served as vice chairman of a multipartisan group of lawmakers who were pushing for development of integrated resorts, including casinos, while the Chinese company was looking to operate a casino in Japan.

Shimoji told the news conference that he never did any favors for 500.com.

He apologized for receiving the money but was vague on the details about how he ended up with the cash.

Still, investigative sources said Shimoji's admission lends credibility to digital records obtained by prosecutors that show four other lawmakers, all members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, also received money from 500.com.

The four LDP lawmakers have denied receiving money from the company. They are: Takeshi Iwaya, a former defense minister; Masahisa Miyazaki, a Justice Ministry parliamentary secretary; Hiroyuki Nakamura, who represents a district in Hokkaido; and Toshimitsu Funahashi, who was elected from the Hokkaido bloc of the proportional representation constituency.

Prosecutors on Dec. 25 arrested Lower House member Tsukasa Akimoto on suspicion of receiving about 3.7 million yen in bribes from 500.com. Akimoto has denied the allegations but he left the LDP after his arrest.

Akimoto once oversaw issues related to integrated casino-resort projects.

Konno was one of three individuals with ties to 500.com who were arrested on suspicion of giving the bribes to Akimoto.

According to sources, another adviser to 500.com told prosecutors during questioning that the company gave about 1 million yen each to five lawmakers.

The Political Fund Control Law bans donations from foreigners or foreign companies.

Shimoji explained that he believed that he wasn’t violating the law by receiving the money.

“I knew (Konno) was an adviser for a Chinese company, but it was a personal donation during an election, so I did not feel I was receiving money from a foreign company,” Shimoji said.

He said he would return the money as soon as possible now that he knows it came from a suspect in a bribery case.

According to Shimoji, on around Oct. 15, 2017, during the Lower House election campaign, Konno visited Shimoji’s campaign office in Naha and handed a staff member an envelope containing 1 million yen. Konno refused to accept a receipt so none was written.

The lawmaker explained that his staff members likely used the donation for campaign expenses, but the money was not listed in reports on Shimoji’s campaign expenses or political funds, a possible violation of the election law.

He also said he could not recall being told about the donation.

Shimoji said he learned about the 1-million-yen donation when he questioned his staff after reports surfaced in late December that five lawmakers, in addition to Akimoto, had received money from 500.com.

A staff member has said a report about the donation was given to Shimoji, but the lawmaker said he could not remember that exchange.

He added that he would make a decision about resigning as a Lower House member after conferring with his supporters. He also said that leaving Nippon Ishin was an option.

Ichiro Matsui, the Osaka mayor who heads Nippon Ishin, said on Jan. 6 that any lawmaker who has violated laws would have to resign.

(This article was compiled from reports by Kazuyuki Ito and Shinichi Fujiwara.)