CASINO

Reuters says Universal tried to buy ex-employee’s silence on bribery allegations

TAGs: entertainment city, Kazuo Okada, Manila Bay Resorts, Philippines, Universal Entertainment

universal-philippines-hush-moneyPlans by Japanese pachinko firm Universal Entertainment to open its in-development Philippine casino look a whole lot sketchier after reports surfaced that a company lawyer offered a former employee compensation for retracting bribery claims. On Tuesday, Reuters reported seeing a two-page fax sent to Takafumi Nakano by Universal attorney Yuki Arai, offering Nakano a “certain level of compensation” if he retracted claims that Universal bribed Philippine gaming officials to gain regulatory concessions related to construction of the Manila Bay Resorts casino.

The brouhaha, which dates back to 2010, involves $40m in questionable payments made by Universal subsidiaries to Rodolfo Soriano, a consultant with ties to the former head of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp (PAGCOR), Efraim Genuino, who is currently facing graft charges not connected to the Universal project.

Universal is currently under investigation by Philippine and US officials to determine whether any laws were broken via these payments. The current head of PAGCOR has said that Manila Bay Resorts won’t be allowed to open until Universal and its local subsidiary Tiger Resorts Leisure and Entertainment resolve the legal questions hanging over the project.

In 2012, Universal sued several former employees, including Nakano, for allegedly authorizing the payments without senior management’s knowledge. Nakano and the other ex-employees have countersued for defamation. Universal has also sued Reuters for defamation over their original reporting of the bribery allegations.

The fax sent to Nakano by Arai reportedly sought to resolve the situation while ensuring Nakano’s complicity in frustrating further investigation of Universal’s activities. In the proposal, which Arai asserts was initiated by Nakano’s lawyer, Arai says Nakano would need to hand over all correspondence he’d had with the FBI, the Nevada Gaming Control Board and Wynn Resorts. Universal chairman Kazuo Okada was formerly Wynn’s largest shareholder until his shares were forcibly redeemed at a discount in February 2012 over $110k in allegedly improper payments Okada had made to Pagcor officials.

Arai also stipulated that Nakano “shall not provide any information to any individual or organization, including the media and investigative agencies.” Nakano would also be required to state n writing that no bribery had taken place. Nakano wouldn’t be required to “state falsehoods,” but would be prohibited from discussing “matters that the company does not desire to be mentioned.” Nakano would also be required to cooperate with Universal in their lawsuits with the other former employees.

Nakano’s lawyer Tamaki Katsube told Reuters he’d rejected Arai’s proposal on behalf of his client, but declined further comment, leaving open the question of why Katsube waited nearly a year to disclose the July 2013 offer. Universal also isn’t talking about the day’s developments. Regardless, the revelation will make Manila Bay Resorts’ opening date of 2015 appear all the more dubious.

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