THE camp of Japanese billionaire Kazuo Okada on Friday denied allegations that Okada’s Universal Entertainment Corp. (UEC) bribed gaming regulators to obtain a license for his $2-billion casino project in Manila.
Okada’s lawyer Yuki Arai said there were no improper payments made by UEC, through its local subsidiary Tiger Resort, Leisure and Entertainment, Inc. (Tiger) to secure a provisional license from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) for Manila Bay Resorts.
Manila Bay Resorts is a hotel casino project that is currently being built at Pagcor’s Entertainment City complex in Paranaque City. The casino is expected to open in the third quarter of 2015 and create 15,000 jobs locally once operational.
But the casino may not be allowed to open until all pending cases faced by its owner are resolved, one of which is the allegation that Okada resorted to bribery to get a casino license from Pagcor.
In denying the bribery allegations, Arai pointed out that the provisional license issued to Tiger Resorts by Pagcor “has substantially the same terms and conditions issued to other licensees.
Hence, there would be no basis to the allegations that improper payments were made to obtain preferential treatment.
Arai cited a March 21, 2012 letter from Pagcor to Tiger president Masahiro Terada confirming that the provisional license issued to Tiger on August 5, 2008 was standard to all four licensees in the Entertainment City Manila project.
“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 Philippine laws,” Arai said.
He added that this could not have been a part of any alleged special benefit for the Japanese investor.
In other words, he said, there would be no need to make any improper payments for Okada’s Philippine project.
He also pointed out that the project did not seek nor receive any special benefit with respect to the Philippine Economic Zone Authority’s (PEZA) designation of the complex as an economic zone.
He said this was clearly stated by PEZA in its August 23, 2013 letter and supported by a legal opinion from Philippine lawyers.
Arai also disputed Okada’s alleged involvement in a US$40 million bribery scheme involving former Pagcor consultant Rodolfo “Boysie” Soriano and a former UEC employee, Mitsuo Hida.
He reiterated that $10 million of the $40 million amount 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, adding that Hida has already admitted his own misconduct in an apology letter dated January 24, 2012 with respect to a $5 million payment.
The other unauthorized payments of $5 million and $25 million are the subject of a criminal complaint brought by UEC against Hida at the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office, Okada’s lawyer said.
Arai also 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.