If Donald Browne expected that relinquishing his position as CEO of Imperial Pacific International (IPI) might save him from being a target, he appears to have been mistaken. Browne served as the scandalous casino operator’s head honcho for about six months before stepping down when his brief contract came to an end last month. However, the company behind the Imperial Palace casino in Saipan continues to be the subject of public and political ridicule for a comedy of errors that could have been avoided, and threats of putting Browne behind bars have already surfaced. The latest warning comes from the same source, but is backed by a large and powerful federal body that is beginning to take a vested interest in how IPI runs its day-to-day operations in the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).
Browne and IPI Chair Cui Li Jie are expected to appear before CNMI Chief Judge Ramona Manglona next Thursday, per an order she has issued. If they don’t show up, the judge is ready to issue arrest warrants for both of them. While IPI is no stranger to controversy and questionable work ethics, this time, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is involved and it’s now a whole new ballgame.
The DOL has accused IPI executives of forcing employees to work without pay for long periods of time during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as not having provided the basic necessities to its workforce. The federal agency also believes that IPI left a number of employees stranded with no way for them to return to their home countries, which the DOJ asserts has led to a humanitarian crisis. Whenever violations of humanitarian rights start to be whispered, things are getting serious.
The DOL already believes that Browne, Cui and IPI should be held in contempt for not properly responding to a previous judgment dating back to April 11, 2019. Several calls to have Browne and IPI held more accountable for what has been going on at the company have been made but, so far, threats have rung hollow with the line in the sand moving each time it has been drawn. For his part, Browne has tried to assert that he can’t be held responsible since he is no longer the CEO, but this argument would most likely fall on deaf ears. He could be given some sort of relief for having only been an IPI figurehead to appease regulators, but his argument that he was unaware of the April 2019, court order won’t hold up. He was the company’s head of security at the time and would have most likely been aware of all the negative attention IPI was receiving.