A Japanese lower house lawmaker was arrested Thursday on suspicion of receiving massive bribes from a wind power company, prosecutors said, in a corruption case over the development of green energy the government has sought to promote.
The arrest of Masatoshi Akimoto, who has left the ruling Liberal Democratic Party amid the allegations, is set to deal a blow to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's Cabinet, for which the approval ratings have remained sluggish.
Akimoto allegedly received 61 million yen ($410,000) in return for asking questions and making interventions in the Diet at the request of Japan Wind Development Co., which was bidding for offshore wind power projects in Aomori Prefecture and elsewhere, prosecutors said.
Masayuki Tsukawaki, 64-year-old former president of the Tokyo-based firm, has admitted the funds were a "reward" to Akimoto, investigative sources said, adding investigators will continue to question him without taking him into custody.
Akimoto, considered an advocate for renewable energy, has made requests in parliament, including for the government to refrain from heavily regulating waters off Aomori Prefecture -- something the company favors.
Prosecutors have decided to charge Akimoto with a crime that carries a possible prison term of seven years, two more than normally imposed in bribery cases.
Akimoto is suspected of receiving 30 million yen as loans without interest or collateral around March 2019, while he was requested to ask questions that would benefit the wind power company between February 2019 and February 2022.
He allegedly received another 31 million yen in connection to a racehorse owners' group between October 2021 and June this year.
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.
A House of Representatives lawmaker of four terms, Akimoto left the LDP and resigned as parliamentary vice foreign minister after the allegations surfaced in August.
The 48-year-old became the first incumbent lawmaker to be arrested in three years after former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai and his wife, upper house lawmaker Anri, were apprehended in June 2020 on suspicion of buying votes in her election.
Known for sharing a vision with Digital Minister Taro Kono to phase out nuclear power, Akimoto served as the director general of a lawmakers' group advocating for sustainable energy within the LDP. He also maintained close ties with former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
Akimoto has pushed for legislation setting uniform rules for offshore renewable energy development to promote wind power, which came into force in April 2019.
At a regular news conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno declined to comment on Akimoto's case on the basis that the investigation is ongoing.
Asked about its impact on Japan's energy policies, the top government spokesman said, "Relevant ministries and agencies will continue to make efforts to promote renewable energy with transparency."
The scandal involving the former member of the ruling party and the government comes at a time when Kishida's Cabinet has seen its support rates plummet due partly to numerous errors over the "My Number" national identification card system.
Kenta Izumi, the leader of the leading opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, described Akimoto's act as "unforgivable," demanding his immediate resignation as lawmaker. He also questioned Kishida's responsibility in appointing him as parliamentary vice foreign minister.