Chinese online sports lottery operator 500.com has officially lost its CEO after the company was linked to fresh corruption charges against a Japanese politician.
On Sunday, the Nasdaq-listed 500.com announced that its CEO Zhengming Pan had submitted his resignation effective immediately. Pan’s resignation comes one month after 500.com accepted his request to “temporarily step aside” while an independent inquiry was underway into allegations of corruption relating to Japan’s casino licensing process.
500.com has been on the defensive ever since Japanese authorities charged former Liberal Democratic Party member Tsukasa Akimoto with accepting bribes from 500.com to boost the company’s chances of winning one of three available Japanese casino licenses.
500.com has been struggling financially since 2015, when China banned online lottery sales. The company has been desperately trying to diversify its revenue streams, mostly without success, and apparently viewed a Japanese casino license as a badly needed lifeline.
On Monday, Akimoto was hit with a new bribery indictment following revelations that he’d accepted ¥2m (US$18,400) from 500.com during a 2017 trip to the company’s Shenzhen headquarters. Akimoto, who has consistently denied any illegal activity, reportedly told authorities the funds transferred to his account were for ‘speaking fees’.
Prior to the new indictment, Japanese media reported that Akimoto had asked 500.com execs to purchase luxury goods worth ¥100k on his behalf while on a company-funded ‘fact-finding’ trip to a Macau casino. Akimoto reportedly told police that he’d been willing to buy the items himself but 500.com offered to pay, and this was “within the scope of commonly accepted social norms.”
The casino that Akimoto visited was reportedly operated by Melco Resorts & Entertainment (MRE), whose Tokyo offices were visited by Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office in mid-January. MRE, which is keen to win a casino license in Yokohama, has yet to publicly comment on the situation but is reportedly cooperating with prosecutors in their investigation of Akimoto’s alleged wrongdoing.