Arrest of Lawmaker Akimoto: It is Despicable to Take Bribes in Reward for Diet Questions

A politician had a cozy relationship with a specific company and even received personal funds. This alone is inappropriate, but the politician also raised questions at the Diet in favor of the company. It must be said that he is lacking in self-awareness as a Diet member who has a responsibility to take charge of national affairs.

The special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office has arrested Masatoshi Akimoto, a member of the House of Representatives, on suspicion of accepting bribes in connection with offshore wind power generation projects.

Akimoto is suspected of receiving bribes totaling about ¥60 million from the former president of a company involved in the offshore wind power generation business from around March 2019 to around June this year.

The company was aiming to enter the power generation business in the waters surrounding Aomori and Akita prefectures. In questioning at the Diet, Akimoto repeatedly made statements that helped the company’s entry into the business, such as by urging the government not to impose excessive regulations on the projects.

The special investigation squad believes that Akimoto used his questioning at the Diet to give the company favorable treatment and received bribes as a reward. The cash was allegedly given to him at the Diet members’ office building.

If true, this would be a totally unacceptable act of abusing his position as a Diet member to line his own pockets.

Akimoto and the former president had jointly formed a racehorse ownership group. The bribes Akimoto is accused of receiving were allegedly used to fund Akimoto’s registration as a private horse owner and purchase race horses, among other purposes.

Akimoto told people around him that he did not understand why spending money on the racehorse ownership group could be considered bribes, according to sources.

On the other hand, the former company president is said to have admitted that the alleged bribes were “a reward for Akimoto’s Diet questions” in favor of the company. If this is true, the firm’s former president used the racehorse ownership group as a cover to provide bribes, demonstrating the malevolence of the case.

It is hoped that the special investigation squad will investigate in detail not only the purpose of the funding but also whether there was any way in which government policy on offshore wind power generation was actually distorted by the money gifts.

The impact of the bribery case on the development and spread of renewable energy is significant. Offshore wind power generation projects are regarded as vital for renewable energy, and the selection of ocean areas and operators to introduce these projects is already underway.

The arrest of Akimoto, who was considered an advocate for renewable energy, could increase distrust of offshore wind power generation. The government needs to work to increase transparency in the selection of operators and other aspects of the projects.

In recent years, there has been a spate of problems involving politics and money, such as the arrest of a former lower house lawmaker — who held the Cabinet Office post of state minister for integrated resorts — in connection with a corruption case linked to a project to build an integrated resort that features a casino.

One cannot help feeling that the sense of responsibility and the sense of ethics of Diet members, who are supposed to work for the people, have diminished. Political parties continue to fail to fulfill their duty of accountability for the misconduct of their lawmakers. The deterioration of the quality of politics should be taken seriously.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 8, 2023)