Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Masatoshi Akimoto is under fire for allegedly accepting bribes from a wind power company, prompting Tokyo prosecutors on Friday to search his offices and leading him to resign as parliamentary vice foreign minister.
The prosecutors suspect questions raised by Akimoto during Diet questioning in connection to a bid on an offshore wind power project involving Tokyo-based Japan Wind Development Co. may be linked to the tens of millions of yen he allegedly received as bribes.
Akimoto's resignation from the governmental post may deal another blow to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, as approval ratings for his Cabinet have recently dipped due largely to issues surrounding the trouble-plagued national identification card system.
Akimoto, 47, has also resolved to resign from the LDP over the scandal, sources familiar with the matter said.
The prosecutors searched the offices and home of Akimoto, a prominent advocate for renewable energy within the LDP, over the bribery allegations. They have also questioned the president of the company over the bribe allegation, the sources said.
During a session of the House of Representatives in February 2019, Akimoto expressed hope for offshore wind power development in a sea area off Aomori Prefecture and asked that there be no excessive and unnecessary restrictions on such facilities.
Japan Wind Development was bidding for a location in Aomori.
"It is completely untrue that our company paid bribes to a lawmaker or to any public servant. There is objective evidence to prove this point," the firm said in a statement.
A lawyer for the company's president denied the allegations, telling reporters Friday that the money was for a racehorse owners' group set up around the fall of 2021 and "was not provided to Mr. Akimoto."
"A lump sum was given sometime last year," the lawyer said, adding it was used to purchase horses and that the president and Akimoto are "acquainted through racehorse breeding."
According to the lawyer, the prosecutors suspect a payoff of possibly around 30 million yen, but that amount is actually the share given by Akimoto and others to the racehorse owners' group.
"The incident has raised concerns among the people, which is extremely regrettable," Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said during a press conference.
The Foreign Ministry said in a press release that Akimoto had made a "request" to resign as parliamentary vice foreign minister. However, it did not provide a specific reason.
Government sources said the lawmaker informed Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno on a phone call that he would be quitting as vice foreign minister due to "personal reasons."
His offices in Tokyo and Chiba Prefecture, which is his electoral base, as well as his home in the city of Chiba, were searched.
Akimoto did not respond to questions from reporters at Haneda airport in Tokyo on Thursday when he returned from an overseas trip.
For around a year through October 2018, Akimoto served as parliamentary vice minister at the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.
During his stint, he pushed for legislation setting uniform rules for offshore renewable energy development in a bid to promote wind power. The legislation was enacted in November 2018.
In June that year, he told a lower house committee on land, infrastructure, transport and tourism that "operators' expectations for the legislation are high."
Based on the legislation, the government designated three marine zones in Akita and Chiba prefectures for electricity generation for up to 30 years. The first round of bidding for development rights, held in December 2021, was won by a consortium led by major trading house Mitsubishi Corp.
Japan Wind Development sought to join that development project, sources close to the matter said.
Established in 1999, Japan Wind Development has developed 293 turbines within and outside Japan with a combined output of over 570 megawatts, according to its website.