On Wednesday, representatives of Tiger Resorts Leisure and Entertainment Inc., the Philippines-based subsidiary of Universal Entertainment that is constructing a resort-casino in the Entertainment City project in Manila Bay, told the country’s legislators they had no knowledge of alleged bribes paid to a former consultant to the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR). Tiger president Masahiro Terada confirmed to the House Committee on Games and Amusement that there was paperwork indicating $15m had been distributed in 2010 to companies linked to Rodolfo Soriano, a man with close ties to former PAGCOR head Efraim Genuino, but that these payments had not been authorized by Universal’s board of directors.
Tiger director Jose Leagogo expanded on this theme, noting this lack of authorization is why charges were filed in August 2012 against the three former Universal staffers who approved the transfer of $5m from Universal’s US-based subsidiary Aruze USA to Soriano’s People’s Technology Inc. The sum was reportedly a guarantee for a project that failed to materialize. Terada added that a $10m payment made by Universal’s Hong Kong-based subsidiary Future Fortune to the British Virgin Islands-registered Subic Leisure and Management was returned to Future Fortune’s account the same day, although Rappler reported that Terada was unable to explain why the money had boomeranged so quickly. “We also want to know why this happened.”
Attorney Jomer Perez reminded the committee that Tiger had received the license for its Manila Bay casino two years prior to the money transfers, which Perez offered as proof that the sums “had nothing to do with the Entertainment City project. It would appear that Mr. Soriano was also a businessman of his own right… trying to explore other opportunities with the Okada group.” Terada said Universal had discussed with Soriano the potential for gaming investment opportunities in Vietnam. The committee hopes to summon Soriano and Genuino to testify at its next hearing into the matter.
Committee chair Amado Bagatsing found it unlikely that Okada or any other businessman in his position would offer such significant bribes to Genuino, who at the time the transfers were made had just months left in his term as PAGCOR’s boss. Going further, Bagatsing suggested the documents that sparked the controversy could have been provided by Okada’s gaming industry rivals in Macau. Okada has been locked in a bitter feud with his former BFF Steve Wynn, who used similar allegations of impropriety involving PAGCOR officials to oust Okada from Wynn Resorts’ board in February.
Bagatsing’s pejorative comments re the intentions of Macau casino outfits may reflect a larger geopolitical spat pitting the Philippines and several other Asia-Pacific nations against China over disputed control of a section of the South China Sea. On Wednesday, the Philippines joined Vietnam in refusing to stamp the new Chinese passport, which features a map indicating the disputed waters as wholly Chinese territory. The Philippine foreign ministry announced that the passport amounted to “legitimizing” Beijing’s “excessive” territorial overreach. For the time being, Chinese visitors to the Philippines will receive a stamp on a separate piece of paper.