Justice officials have recommended the cancellation of Hong Kong-based Landing International’s lease contract with the Philippine government, backing President Rodrigo Duterte’s claim that the deal was “flawed.”
According to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque announced last Friday that the Justice department, in its report submitted to the Philippine president, had “characterized the contract as being void ab initio [from the beginning].”
Citing Secretary of Justice Menardo Guevarra, Roque said, “The contract of Landing with Nayong Pilipino is a Build-Operate-Transfer [BOT] contract disguised as a lease contract. Because it is a BOT project, it should have complied with the BOT law including public bidding.”
Roque said the Justice department’s position “rebuts the public advertisement paid for by former officials of the Nayong Pilipino,” whose open letter defending the legality of the lease was printed in several newspapers last week.
It was the findings of the Philippine Commission on Audit (COA) last June that led to Duterte’s calling for the cancelation of the NPF-Landing agreement. The COA had estimated a foregone revenue of PHP26 billion ($486 million) for the government, in relation to the property’s market value. The lease payments to be made by Landing, the COA had pointed out, were much lower than those of other casino operators.
Duterte has repeatedly stated his hatred for gambling, even ordering state regulator the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) to stop issuing casino licenses to new investors. The scrapping of the $1.5-billion Landing casino project is consistent with such pronouncements.
The price of Landing stock has dipped about 50% from last month. Apart from the trouble with the Philippine government, its chairman Yang Zhihui went missing two weeks ago and was reportedly detained in Cambodia. Since January, Landing shares have fallen from HKD15.5 per share ($1.97) to about HKD3.1 ($0.39), an 80% decline.