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MANILA, Philippines – FBI agents are said to be in Manila investigating alleged illegal payments amounting to millions of US dollars by Japan’s Universal Entertainment to a former consultant of the Philippine gaming regulator in relation to the company’s casino project in Manila.
Reuters news agency reported on Saturday, January 12, that agents from the Las Vegas office of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have been looking into the alleged bribes since last week in coordination with the Philippines’ National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
After initially investigating the matter in the US, the FBI decided to widen its probe because the NBI’s investigation has been “slow-moving,” according to a source familiar with the matter quoted by Reuters.
Over the past week, the American federal agents have been escorted by NBI officials to “various locations,” including the properties of Efraim Genuino, the former chair of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor), and Rodolfo Soriano, Pagcor’s former consultant, Reuters said.
The investigation has focused on $40-million payments transferred to Soriano during the time Universal sought and won key concessions for its Manila Bay casino project in 2010.
Malacañang said on Sunday, January 13, it didn’t know anything about the FBI agents’ supposed visit.
“I have no information whether there are FBI agents who have arrived to investigate. We don’t have information on that,” Palace spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a radio interview.
Project to be scrapped if bribe confirmed
Universal, majority owned by founder and gambling magnate Kazuo Okada and his son through a family trust, claimed it carried out its business in the Philippines lawfully.
The Japanese gaming giant broke ground on its Manila Bay project in January 2012, but current Pagcor chair Cristino Naguiat has threatened to strip Universal of its license if evidence of bribery is found.
President Benigno Aquino III announced in November the opening of an official probe to determine if bribes were paid to secure the license for the $2-billion casino resort envisioned by Okada.
Universal argued that 3 former employees paid $15 of the $40 million without authorization from the board and has taken them to court over the matter in Tokyo.
While that trial is still ongoing, the Japanese firm said last week it plans to conduct a separate investigation by experts from outside of the company. – Rappler.com