Okada group denies improper conduct in PH project

Posted at 06/20/14 12:40 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The local subsidiary of Japanese tycoon Kazuo Okada's Universal Entertainment Corp. denied it was involved in "improper" conduct for its Philippine casino project.

In a statement, Yuki Arai, lawyer for UEC, said the provisional license granted by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) to UEC's local subsidiary Tiger Resort, Leisure and Entertainment, Inc. contains the same terms and conditions granted to other licensees for Entertainment City.

He noted this showed there is no basis to allegations that improper payments were made to obtain preferential treatment.

Arai cited documents, including a March 21, 2012 letter from Pagcor to Tiger President Masahiro Terada confirming that the provisional license given to Tiger was standard to all licensees.

"PAGCOR indicated that the Philippines Project would obtain the necessary approvals, including but not limited to the so-called 'Negative List Exclusion,' required under Philippine law and available to potential licensees without special benefit which was based upon the Philippines laws," he said.

He also maintained Tiger did not seek or receive special benefit with respect to Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) designation of the complex as an economic zone.

At the same time, Arai disputed the alleged $40 million bribery involving former PAGCOR consultant Rodolfo "Boysie" Soriano and a former UEC employee, Mitsuo Hida.

He reiterated that the $10 million of the $40 million was merely transferred within the UEC group of companies and could not have been an improper payment to a third party.

"Hida acted for his own self-interest and is the subject of a lawsuit by Universal in Japan for his alleged misconduct," he said, noting Hida already admitted his own misconduct in a January 24, 2012 letter.

Arai noted that Soriano appears also to have acted in his own self-interest by using some of the funds at issue for his own personal projects.

"He admitted that he borrowed $30 million as the loan from a UEC affiliate and used that amount in his own interests in his signed letter dated October 23, 2013. One of the loan installments is evidenced by the agreement dated January 14, 2010," he added.

Earlier this month, Reuters reported that another former employee of UEC filed a criminal complaint against Okada, alleging he ordered the payment of bribes to advance a still-unfinished casino project in the Philippines.

Takafumi Nakano submitted his complaint to Tokyo District Public Prosecutor's Office in late May, a copy reviewed by Reuters showed. It was not clear if the prosecutors' office, which declined to comment, would investigate his claims. Nakano has made similar claims in an ongoing civil defamation case against his former employer.

The criminal complaint marks the latest salvo in a long-running legal battle between Okada and three former employees over $40 million in payments made in 2010 that have been the subject of separate investigations by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Nevada gaming regulator and the Philippine government.

If U.S. and Philippine authorities decide there is evidence of wrongdoing, Okada and his companies could face prosecution for violation of anti-bribery laws in those countries. The Nevada regulator could impose sanctions impacting various licenses in the state, including to manufacture and distribute slot machines.

Okada and Universal Entertainment have filed lawsuits against the three former staff, accusing them of transmitting a portion of the money without proper authorization. In court filings, all three men have said they were acting on Okada's orders.

In the complaint, Nakano said Okada ordered that the bulk of the money be paid to Soriano, a consultant with close ties to Efraim Genuino, then head of the Philippine gaming regulator, with the aim of securing tax and foreign ownership concessions for the $2 billion casino Universal is building on Manila Bay.

"The only conclusion is that $30 million was paid as bribes to Genuino or to other public officials" who could influence the relaxing of foreign ownership regulations and PEZA recognition, Nakano wrote in his complaint, referring to a tax-light economic zone in Manila.

The lifting of restrictions on foreign ownership of casinos and the approval to operate in PEZA were granted in 2010 around the time the payments were made to two companies controlled by Soriano. Universal has denied any connection and says it has conducted its business in the Philippines lawfully. - With Reuters