Reuters has issued a followup to last week’s bombshell revelation that a paper trail connected millions of dollars in payments from Kazuo Okada’s Universal Entertainment to Rodolfo Soriano, an associate of Efraim Genuino, the former head of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR). The payments were allegedly made to aid efforts by Universal subsidiary Tiger Resorts Leisure and Entertainment to secure favorable concessions on taxes, infrastructure and foreign ownership regarding the construction of a resort casino in PAGCOR”s Entertainment City complex in Manila Bay.
Reuters now reports that the $5m paid to a Soriano-controlled company was more like $30m. Reuters’ original report cited a total of $40m Universal’s US subsidiary Aruze USA had transferred in 2010 to Hong Kong-based Future Fortune, which then forwarded $5m to Soriano’s People’s Technology Holding Ltd. and the remaining $35m to British Virgin Islands-registered Subic Leisure and Management, whose ownership remains hazy. For reasons unknown, a $10m payment was reportedly returned to Future Fortune the same day it was transferred to Subic. Universal has claimed the payments were rogue activities by a few ex-employees, against whom Universal filed charges in August.
How Reuters determined Soriano was indisputably the beneficiary of Subic’s windfall isn’t stated in its latest report, beyond “a review of company records and interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees and people familiar with the investigation.” Those company records allegedly refer to the Soriano payments as a “completion bonus” for his help in clearing the final hurdles facing Universal’s Entertainment City project.
This week, Universal execs told a Philippine House of Representatives committee investigating the brouhaha that Universal received its Philippine gaming license two years prior to the payments being made in early 2010, which the execs said was proof that the sums “had nothing to do with” the Manila casino project. But the payments were made around the same time that Universal won the concessions it was seeking from then-president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, whose husband Jose Miguel Arroyo accompanied Soriano on a trip to Las Vegas in 2009.
SECOND PHILIPPINE HOUSE COMMITTEE TO INVESTIGATE
Now a second House committee may conduct an investigation into the matter. The Philippine Daily Inquirer reports that the Committee on Good Government intends to act on a two-year-old resolution filed by Representatives Teodoro Casiño and Neri Colmenares that sought answers on “various multi-million anomalies” involving PAGCOR’s previous administration. PAGCOR’s current leadership has denied any involvement in or knowledge of the payment controversy.
On Friday, PAGCOR chairman Cristino Naguiat Jr. said if the Department of Justice determines the bribery allegations are factual, then Universal’s Manila casino license “should be canceled.” But Naguiat cautioned that until such a determination was made, PAGCOR couldn’t act “without due process.” Universal “might sue us if we just cancel a license without sufficient evidence. We have to protect the country from the negative perception of investors who might complain about unilateral contract cancellations.”
Naguiat himself may need protection, having already been accused by former FBI director Louis Freeh of accepting $110k worth of “gross improprieties” aka the generous hospitality of Okada at the Wynn Macau shortly after taking over as PAGCOR boss. Naguiat has denied any impropriety, describing himself as “collateral damage” in the ongoing war between Okada and the Universal chairman’s former partner, Wynn Resorts’ chairman Steve Wynn.