Japan prosecutors arrest ex-vice foreign minister in bribery case linked to wind power company

TOKYO (AP) — Tokyo prosecutors said Thursday they have arrested the former vice foreign minister of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s Cabinet on suspicion of accepting more than 61 million yen ($414,000) in bribes from a wind power company in return for his promotion of wind power and other favorable treatment.

Masatoshi Akimoto, 48, was arrested on suspicion of accepting the bribes, including 30 million yen ($204,000) in cash at his parliamentary office , from a wind power company executive on several occasions between February 2019 and June this year, prosecutors said.

Akimoto had stepped down as vice foreign minister and left Kishida’s governing Liberal Democratic Party in August after allegations surfaced and prosecutors raided his office as part of their bribery investigation.

Akimoto has advocated promotion of renewable energy and urged the government during parliamentary sessions in 2019 not to heavily regulate the waters off the coast of Aomori where the company, Japan Wind Development Co., was bidding for offshore wind power projects, Kyodo News agency reported.

Akimoto is suspected of receiving 30 million yen in cash as loans without interest or collateral around March 2019 from the windfarm executive in return for asking questions in ways to benefit the company, the prosecutors’ office said in a statement.

He allegedly received another 31 million yen ($210,500) in connection to a racehorse owner's group between October 2021 and June this year. He took the money for his registration with the group, according to Japanese media reports.

Masayuki Tsukawaki, the 64-year-old former president of Japan Wind Development, has admitted that the payments were a “reward” for Akimoto, Kyodo said, quoting unnamed investigative sources.

Akimoto denied the allegations and said he asked questions at parliamentary sessions to promote renewable energy based on his political beliefs, not because he was asked to by Tsukawaki to benefit Japan Wind Development, NHK public television said, quoting him in a statement released by his lawyer.

He also denied accepting bribes as a reward for asking questions in parliamentary sessions.

“I am innocent,” he said, adding that he will provide a full explanation to prove that during the investigation, NHK said.

Akimoto's office wasn't immediately available for comment.

Kishida, who wrapped up the Southeast Asian regional summit in Jakarta, Indonesia, said the arrest of the lawmaker who used to belong to his party was “extremely regrettable" and that parliamentarians must work for the people.

Renewable energy is extremely important to achieve decarbonization and a stable energy supply during a time that the world faces an energy crisis, Kishida said, adding that his government would continue to promote renewables with transparency.

Officials in the regions pushing for renewable energy say they are worried that the bribery scandal hurts the image of renewables when the energy needs to be further promoted.

“We cannot build social infrastructure for the future of Japan without fair competition,” said Norihisa Satake, governor of Akita, where Japan’s first full commercial operation of wind power generation began in December. “We want operators to compete fairly and squarely with technology.”

Established in 1999, Japan Wind Development has developed 293 turbines in and outside Japan with a combined output of more than 570 megawatts, according to the company's website.