Prosecutors See Quid Pro Quo Bribe from Wind Firm to Lawmaker

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The First Member’s Office Building of the House of Representatives in Tokyo in which lawmaker Masatoshi Akimoto has an office

Masatoshi Akimoto, the lower house lawmaker allegedly involved in receiving bribes from a wind power enterprise, is suspected of accepting about ¥10 million in cash from the company president after changes were made in criteria for selecting firms to handle wind power projects, according to sources.

Japan Wind Development Co. repeatedly lobbied Akimoto to make the changes, the sources said. Akimoto had been the chief secretary of the Liberal Democratic Party’s Parliamentary Association for Promotion of Renewable Energies.

The lawmaker from Chiba Prefecture had gained his House of Representatives seat through the proportional representation section of the Minami Kanto Bloc. The 47-year-old was a member of the LDP until resigning from the ruling party on Saturday amid the bribery allegations.

In February 2022, Akimoto made references to the criteria changes during Diet interpellations. The criteria were subsequently revised in October that year.

The sources said that right after the criteria change, Akimoto received the money from the Tokyo-based company at his office in the Member’s Office Building of the House of Representatives. Japan Wind Development President Masayuki Tsukawaki and Akimoto have a joint ownership in racehorses, and the lawmaker channeled the money into purchasing horses.

The special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office suspects the money was a gratuity for Akimoto’s reference to the criteria changes at the Diet session.

Including the ¥10 million in cash, Tsukawaki provided approximately ¥30 million to Akimoto and the joint ownership during the period from October 2021 to June 2023, sources said.

Under the Penal Code, a crime is committed when public employees accept a bribe in connection with their duties. The special investigation squad regards Akimoto’s reference to the criteria at the Diet interpellations as performing his official duty, thus, it suspects the approximately ¥30 million Tsukawaki spent was a quid pro quo bribe.

In December 2021, Japan Wind Development had failed in a publicly open bidding process for an offshore wind power project in Akita Prefecture. The bid was won by a consortium led by Mitsubishi Corp. that had offered by far the lower price for selling the electricity to be generated.

According to the sources, the company then repeatedly lobbied Akimoto to make changes to the criteria from the emphasis on price. Japan Wind Development also joined forces with some other wind power companies to lobby for the criteria change, meeting with members of Akimoto’s parliamentary association at LDP headquarters.

During the Diet interpellations in February 2022, Akimoto said, “I would like to request a review of the evaluation method in future bids,” referring to the criteria. The following month, the LDP-led government began discussions to revise the criteria so better evaluations are given to operators whose plans propose an earlier start to operations, not just lower prices.

Soon after the criteria changes came into effect in late October, Akimoto allegedly received ¥10 million from the representatives of Tsukawaki and used most of the money for racehorses.

Akimoto established the racehorse joint ownership with Tsukawaki and an acquaintance in autumn 2021. The lawmaker was single-handedly responsible for managing the joint ownership’s funds, including purchasing horses and entering them into races, as well as managing the group’s bank account and paying for feed and other expenses.

A few days before receiving the ¥10 million, Akimoto had sent messages to Tsukawaki’s mobile phone asking for money to purchase horses.

Tsukawaki has already voluntarily met with the special investigation squad for questioning. The squad confiscated his mobile phone and has been investigating the content of the messages.