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MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) is investigating a report that the firm of Japanese gaming magnate Kazuo Okada paid off a former Pagcor consultant to win concessions for a Manila casino project.
In an exclusive story, Reuters reported that Okada’s affiliates paid $5 million to Rodolfo “Boysee” Soriano in May 2010. Soriano is a close associate of Efraim Genuino, the former chairman of Pagcor, which regulates casino operations and is the entity that awards contracts to private investors for the the up-and-coming casino entertainment complex that aims to put the Philippines in the gambling map.
Pagcor initially said it was not aware of the charges, but on Sunday, November 18, the gaming regulator told Rappler that it is investigating the report.
“We are looking into these serious allegations. In fact, Mr Soriano has been the subject of one of the cases (plunder) Pagcor filed although on a different issue,” said Pagcor legal counsel Jay Santiago in a text message.
“The management of Pagcor welcomes the new allegation of corruption unearthed by US investigators against officials of the gaming agency under the previous Pagcor management. It will help Pagcor to further strengthen its plunder case against Mr Soriano which we filed last 2011.”
Santiago added that Pagcor will refer the issue to the Justice Department and the National Bureau of Investigation, and wait for recommendations.
Reuters said the alleged payment was made in the first half of 2010, “just as Universal sought tax and ownership-related concessions in the final months of the administration of former Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.”
President Arroyo stepped down in June 2010 and President Aquino took over. Changing of the guard at Pagcor followed not long after.
Reuters was referring to Okada-led Universal Entertainment Corp., one of the 4 groups that the Pagcor, then under Naguiat, awarded licenses to to operate casinos in Pagcor’s 120-hectare The Entertainment City.
According to Reuters’ money trail, Universal’s US affiliate, Nevada-incorporated Aruze USA, allegedly transferred the $5 million funds from Aruze’s account from the US to an entity in Hong Kong run by a succession of Universal employees.
The money then moved from the Hong Kong bank account with HSBC to People’s Technology Holding Ltd, a firm established in 2009 and wholly-owned by Soriano.
The report added that US gaming regulators are already investigating the payment, which was traced based on examination of bank records, corporate filings, court documents and records.
Rappler is still trying to reach Soriano as of this posting.
Reuters said it was not clear whether Okada personally approved the payments.
The reported $5 million transfer to Soriano is the latest in a long-running controversy involving Pagcor, Okada and his business partner-turned-rival Steve Wynn.
Rappler earlier reported that a Wynn-commissioned report by former Federal Bureau of Investigations Director Louis Freeh said Soriano and other Genuino associates held positions in companies controlled by Okada. This provided corporate links between the businessman’s interests and those of Genuino’s.
The report suggested that the Genuino and his associates may have acted to help Okada skirt the Anti-Dummy law, which prohibits foreign firms from owning more than 40% of a local entity.
Wynn filed a US lawsuit against Okada in February based on the Freeh report. He accused Okada of paying off two Pagcor officials 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, Cristino Naguiat Jr.
Naguiat himself drew flak for a 4-night stay at a US $6,000-a-day suite in the most expensive room at the Wynn Resorts Macau in September 2010. The Freeh report said Naguiat was billeted along with his family and colleagues.
Naguiat and Malacañang denied charges of conflict of interest and bribery, saying the stay was “standard industry practice.”
The Pagcor chief is a good friend and a classmate of President Benigno Aquino III at the Ateneo de Manila University.
Okada was ousted from the board of Wynn Resorts in February, and has since been locked in a legal battle with Wynn. – Rappler.com