Lawmaker rightly censured for shameful attempt to pervert justice

A lawmaker took bribes from a company closely linked to his official duties and attempted to bribe trial witnesses. It is only natural that the court ruling strongly condemned his actions, saying that he lacks even the minimum respect for the law.

The Tokyo District Court gave a four-year prison sentence to House of Representatives member Tsukasa Akimoto, who was charged with bribery and another crime in connection with a corruption case linked to a project to build an integrated resort featuring a casino.

In 2017 and 2018, when Akimoto was state minister for integrated resorts at the Cabinet Office, he took bribes worth a total of about ¥7.6 million, including cash, from a Chinese company seeking to participate in the integrated resort project. The people who paid the bribes have admitted doing so in court, and their convictions have been finalized.

The ruling in Akimoto’s case said “while holding a key position in the government office in charge of the project, he significantly harmed the integrity of his duties and the trust of society.” The court seems to have judged that severe punishment was necessary, focusing on the cozy relationship between Akimoto and the company’s officials, as they had gone on business trips at the company’s expense.

After being released on bail in the bribery case, Akimoto was also accused of violating the organized crime punishment law by attempting to buy off some of the defendants who had paid the bribes, who were likely to be witnesses at his trial. The ruling said his actions “were a blatant obstruction of justice and he resorted to the base means of bribery.”

It is unprecedented for a lawmaker who has been charged with criminal responsibility in a corruption case to seek false testimony that favors him from people who had paid the bribes and were likely to testify against him, promising to reward them for such testimony. Such an act compromises the fairness of a trial and is utterly unacceptable.

In addition to this case, efforts to establish integrated resorts have been facing increasing headwinds due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, with foreign companies that were expected to participate deciding to withdraw. In the Yokohama mayoral election last month, a candidate who opposed bringing an integrated resort to that city was elected for the first time, defeating the incumbent and other candidates.

Akimoto has pleaded not guilty and appealed the ruling to a higher court. Although he left the ruling Liberal Democratic Party after his arrest, Akimoto has refused to resign as a Diet member and indicated his intention to run in the lower house election this autumn.

It is aberrant for Akimoto to call on eligible voters to support him under such circumstances. He needs to humbly accept the points made in the ruling.

There has been a spate of scandals involving former LDP lawmakers. Former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai, who handed out cash mainly to local assembly members in the previous House of Councillors election, appealed the ruling at a district court after receiving a prison sentence. Former Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Isshu Sugawara was sentenced to pay a fine in violation of the Public Offices Election Law. Sugawara’s ruling has been finalized. Takamori Yoshikawa, a former agriculture minister, is on trial for accepting bribes.

It is hard to say that these politicians and the party have fully explained these criminal cases. The LDP must be aware once again that its lack of discipline is inviting harsh criticism from the public.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Sept. 8, 2021.