500.com CEO Steps Down Amid Japan Casino Bribery Scandal

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Chinese online sports lottery operator 500.com’s CEO has temporarily stepped down from his company positions in the wake of ongoing investigation into whether Japanese lawmakers have been bribed to win one of three casino licences in Japan for grabs.

According to a statement issued today (Monday) by the company, the board of 500.com accepted the proposal of Pan Zhengming to temporarily vacate his chief executive post on December 30. He also resigned his seat on the board of the company.

The executive said board members had to step down while an internal committee is conducting a review on “alleged illegal money transfers” and the role 500.com consultants play in Japan.

Last month, Tokyo prosecutors detained Tsukasa Akimoto, a former senior vice minister in the government of Japan and a former member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, for allegedly taking a 500.com bribe to use his power to spearhead the Chinese company’s bid to win a licence for an integrated casino resort in Hokkaido.

In the summer of 2017, 500.com opened an office in Japan, announcing that it was interested in participating in the establishment of integrated casino resorts in the region. In September 2017, the organisation reportedly bribed Mr. Akimoto. The money used for the payoff had reached Japan illegally, according to prosecutors in Tokyo.

In addition to Mr. Akimoto, three former 500.com workers were arrested last month by Tokyo prosecutors for allegedly bribing the lawmaker. One of the detained individuals was the former head of Japan operations of the Chinese gaming business, while the other two were working for the company as consultants.

It is estimated that Mr. Akimoto obtained JPY3 million in cash from the three suspects detained. 500.com also covered the costs of a trip to Hokkaido that Mr. Akimoto and his family took in February 2018, according to prosecutors. The Japanese legislator maintains his innocence and claims that from 500.com he has taken no money.

One of the former company consultants arrested told investigators that he also gave out JPY1 million in cash to each of the other five lawmakers from Japan. All five were interviewed on a voluntary basis last week and dismissed claims of complicity in the bribery case.

They also told prosecutors that they received political contributions from a travel agency that is supposed to have partnered with 500.com to pursue a casino licence for a resort in Hokkaido, but were not informed that the money actually came from the Chinese gambling operator. Under Japanese law, political donations from foreign individuals or organisations are banned.

Late last week, the Tokyo District Court extended Mr. Akimoto’s arrest and the three former employees of 500.com. The Japanese legislator, who left the Liberal Democratic Party on December 25 after his arrest, will remain under arrest until at least January 14.

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