Philippine investigators found evidence that Japanese billionaire Kazuo Okada used companies that aren’t qualified to develop a casino in Manila.
A fact-finding panel recommended criminal charges against Okada and other parties for possible violations of a law against using front companies to own land, according to a justice department statement yesterday. Separately, the panel didn’t find sufficient evidence to recommend charges on bribery, it said. Claro Arellano, prosecutor general, said there will be a further investigation.
“We built the current land-owning scheme based on advice from the Philippines’ prominent lawyers, so our understanding is that it’s legal,” Nobuyuki Horiuchi, a spokesman for Universal Entertainment, said over the phone yesterday. The company is working with the government to resolve the land issue and it will continue to pursue the casino project, it said in a stock exchange statement today.
Universal Entertainment said it is in the final stages of negotiations to secure potential local partners and “finding a conclusion to the ownership of land.”
The panel of investigators recommended criminal charges against Okada, eight Japanese nationals and 17 Filipinos, according to the statement. Some of the individuals involved are lawyers, it said.
“Okada’s trouble will end up delaying his project and this will definitely benefit the other players,” Astro del Castillo, managing director at First Grade Finance Inc., said by telephone today.
Universal shares fell as much as 7.7 percent to 1,846 yen, headed for the biggest decline since May 23 before trading at 1,850 yen at 2:34 p.m in Tokyo trading today. The Topix Index gained 0.5 percent.
The Philippines is counting on Okada’s project and three other gambling developments, collectively known as Pagcor Entertainment City, to boost tourist traffic that lags regional neighbors including Indonesia and Thailand. Universal is targeting 150 billion yen ($1.5 billion) in sales from the casino in the first year of operations, Okada said in an interview in September 2011. At that time, he said the company would spend $2.3 billion on the project.
The panel looked into claims of bribery involving $40 million allegedly paid in 2010 to a consultant for Philippine casino regulators and said it found insufficient evidence to justify charges. The government may cancel Okada’s license if bribery is proven, Edwin Lacierda, Aquino’s spokesman, said on Nov. 19.
Okada, who amassed a fortune selling machines for Japanese pachinko parlors, won one of four provisional gaming licenses awarded for the Manila casino hub in 2008. He has sought to expand in the Southeast Asian nation, where the government is setting up a casino center that would compete with Macau, the world’s biggest gaming hub, to draw gamblers and tourists from China.
To contact the reporter on this story: Norman P. Aquino in Manila at email@example.com