MANILA, Philippines - Affiliates of Japanese billionaire Kazuo Okada's Universal Entertainment Corp. are now being investigated by US gaming authorities for allegedly paying millions of dollars to a former Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) consultant to win rights to operate a casino project in Manila, Reuters reported Saturday, November 18.
In an exclusive story, Reuters reported that Okada's affiliates made a $5-million payment to Rodolfo Soriano, a close associate of former Pagcor chair Efraim Genuino, in May 2010.
The news agency said its story was based on its examination of bank records, corporate filings, court documents and records prepared by the staff of Universal.
Its examination showed that the $5 million was first transferred from Universal's US affiliate, Nevada-incorporated Aruze USA, to another affiliate in Hong Kong -- Future Fortune.
From the Hong Kong firm's HSBC bank account, the money was wired to People's Technology Holding Ltd., a firm established in 2009 and wholly-owned by Soriano, said the Reuters report.
The report also said that the money was part of $40 million worth of fund transfers between the two Universal affiliates now subject of a probe launched by US regulators.
The transfer to Soriano's firm happened "as Universal sought tax and ownership-related concessions in the final months of the administration of former Philippine president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo," the report added.
Universal is one of 4 groups that have been awarded licenses to operate casinos in Pagcor's 120-hectare integrated tourism and entertainment complex called The Entertainment City along a reclaimed area on Manila Bay, near the Manila airport.
The Reuters report said Soriano could not be reached for comment.
Rappler is also trying to reach him as of this posting.
Meanwhile, Pagcor's Assistant Vice President for Corporate Communications Maricar Bautista told Rappler that the current Pagcor management, led by its chair Cristino Naguiat Jr., is not aware of the alleged fund transfer to Soriano's company.
Asked whether Pagcor is coordinating with US authorities on the investigation, Bautista said she could not say and would have to consult Pagcor's Legal department.
Check Reuters' site for the entire story. Click on this link to read it.
The story on the $5-million transfer to an ex-Pagcor consultant was the latest twist in the controversy involving Okada and the Philippine gaming regulator.
In a US lawsuit filed in February this year, Okada was accused by Steve Wynn, his partner in Las Vegas resort-casino operator Wynn Resorts, of paying off two officials of the Philippine regulator to bag the Manila casino project.
Wynn said Okada spent over $110,000 in cash payments and gifts to curry favor with Genuino and his successor, Naguiat.
Naguiat, a close friend of President Benigno Aquino III, had denied any involvement in the alleged pay-offs, saying he was just dragged into a boardroom battle between the gaming tycoons.
Okada was ousted from Wynn Resorts' board in February. - Rappler.com
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