Japan’s IR Industry as Caesar’s Wife

Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion. This two-thousand-year-old nugget of political wisdom from another part of the world holds an important lesson for Japan’s fledgling IR industry even today.

The origin of the saying dates back to the Roman Republic in the year 62 BC, when Julius Caesar divorced his wife Pompeia due to rumors of her infidelity. “My wife ought not even to be under suspicion,” Caesar reportedly quipped.

Over the centuries the saying has gained various interpretations, but the core notion is that those who are in public life, or very close to someone in public life, need to take special care about creating any perceptions of impropriety.

Even if he is guilty of nothing else, it’s a lesson that Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Tsukasa Akimoto ought to have heeded.

This week it emerged that the special investigation unit of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office raided the homes of two of Akimoto’s former political aides, and have directly questioned the lawmaker himself.

Where this gains a special significance is in the fact that the crime being investigated relates to one of the international bidders for an IR license, and Akimoto himself served as a state minister at the Cabinet Office from August 2017 until October 2018 with a mandate that put him in charge of developing the nation’s IR policies.

According to the initial reports, investigators believe that an executive of a Shenzhen-based sports lottery company aiming to build an IR in Japan brought a large amount of cash into Japan that was not declared to customs authorities, in violation of the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Law.

But there are reasons to expect that there is more to the story than has so far been revealed to the media.

If this were a simple case of a Chinese businessman failing to declare some cash, then why is the elite special investigation unit involved? It seems a rather trivial crime to garner their attention. And why raid the homes of two former state-funded political secretaries and call in a prominent ruling party lawmaker for questioning?

While it may yet turn out to be less substantial than it seems, for now it smells like the opening act of a larger scandal.

Akimoto himself has made strong statements protesting his complete innocence. At present there is nothing that can be said either way. He may indeed prove to have done absolutely nothing wrong, and the suspicions swirling around him may be entirely unjust.

However, a major public scandal of this nature is exactly what Japan’s fledgling IR industry doesn’t need.

Japanese opponents of casino legalization have been arguing loudly for years that to allow this industry to set up shop in the country is an invitation for increased crime, corruption, and damage to the public order. Fears that casinos could become the venues for money laundering, for example, ranks as one of the primary areas of public disquiet.

There are also many whispered accusations of influence peddling that go all the way to the top of the political system, whether it be the widely-reported story about Donald Trump, Sheldon Adelson, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, or the quieter but nonetheless common rumors that Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga is the real string-puller behind Yokohama’s IR bid.

It is a matter of public record, not merely a suspicion, that lawmaker Tsukasa Akimoto gave a pro-IR pitch in Naha in August 2017, the very same event at which the Shenzhen-based sports lottery company announced its proposal to become an IR operator in Japan, aiming for a US$2.5 billion investment at an undisclosed Okinawa location. That is the same month that Akimoto was put in charge of national IR policy.

If it turns out that a crime was committed in the background to the Naha event, or in the lobbying that followed it, the reputational damage to the entire IR industry could be severe.

The public still opposes casino legalization, and this fact has already caused some local governments to withdraw from the race. Imagine how much worse it could be if this scandal, or another like it, proves the opponents correct about the inability of the Japanese political system to responsibly handle such a major inflow of foreign cash.

Like Caesar’s wife, the IR industry and Japan’s pro-IR politicians must conduct themselves so as not even to be under suspicion. (AGB Nippon)