MANILA, Philippines – The current chief of the Philippine Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) said due process should be observed in the investigation on the alleged illicit payments made by a private firm to a former official of the state-run casino operator and regulator.
In an interview with reporters on December 10, Pagcor Chairman Cristino Naguiat said the current management is cooperating with the ongoing investigations over alleged multi-million money transfers by the group of Japanese billionaire Kazuo Okada to Rodolfo Soriano, a former consultant at Pagcor, and close associate of former Pagcor Chairman Efraim Genuino.
“There should be due process here,” said Naguiat, referring to the ongoing investigations by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) after news group Reuters reported that around US$30 million was traced to have been paid by Nevada-based units of Okada-led Universal Entertainment to the Filipino official.
These payments in 2010 were allegedly in exchange for concessions on the $2-billion casino project in Manila.
“We forwarded this (Reuters report) to DOJ and the NBI for them to investigate. They’re doing a lot of legwork for this. They’re calling the company of Mr. Okada and all the people involved in the transaction,” Naguiat added.
Citing the Okada group’s position in a recent hearing in the House of Representatives, Naguiat said: “From the letter, it was saying it (payments) were an illegal disbursement. There was no board approval into it.”
Naguiat said he has not yet personally spoken with Okada, but Pagcor is in touch with the business group of the Japanese tycoon.
“We always coordinate with them. We always ask them to explain these reports. We wrote them a letter after all these things. I think they have submitted this report and we forwarded it to DOJ for them (DOJ) to assess,” he said.
He shared that the ongoing talks between Okada’s group and the local Gokongwei group for the retail and hotel aspects of the project are still ongoing. “I think their talks are already in advance stages.”
He adds the retail and hotel businesses that the two business groups are working out is not covered by the ongoing investigation, nor are under Pagcor’s regulatory functions.
“The main important point here is, they (Okada) will not be allowed to open a casino if there’s a problem. The hotel… it’s a different business. They can always open a hotel. We don’t regulate the hotel. What we regulate is only the gaming aspect.”
Okada’s group is one of the 4 that Pagcor granted the right to build and operate casino and entertainment complexes meant to put Manila in the world gambling map. Reuters said the unearthed money transfers were meant to be “bonus” payments for additional incentives Pagcor had granted to the group.
Naguiat was himself once dragged into the scandal involving expensive trips to various casino-hotels that Okada has a stake in. Okada is now embroiled in legal battles with his friend-turned-rival Steve Wynn of Wynn Resorts. – Rappler.com