Justice department backs Okada prosecution


The Department of Justice recommend prosecutors pursue criminal charges against Universal Entertainment Corp. chairman Kazuo Okada and 25 others for allegedly seeking to circumvent restrictions on foreign ownership of land by using front companies in assembling parcels for the group’s planned $2 billion Manila Bay Resorts casino hotel complex. The Philippine constitution caps foreign investment in land at 40 percent but unlike the other three gaming companies developing projects in Manila’s Entertainment City complex, Universal has no local partner. The investigation by the Justice Department and National Bureau of Investigation recommended charges against eight Japanese associates of Okada and 17 Filipinos, including some of Okada’s lawyers and Rodolfo Soriano Jr., a former consultant of Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., as well as 10 companies controlled by Okada and Soriano.

Universal said its lawyers continue to view the land transactions as “legitimate and lawful” but said it has been working to address the government’s concerns about the lack of local ownership in its site, which it was told it just needed to resolve before completion of development. “We are already in the final stages of negotiations to secure potential local partners,” it said. Talks however with Robinsons Land Corp., which had signed a preliminary agreement to invest in Universal’s site, collapsed in late May but this month Anthony Charlemagne Yu, the president of Empire East Land Holdings Inc., said his company was in preliminary talks with Universal even though sister company Alliance Global Group Inc. is a joint venture partner in the rival Resorts World Bayshore casino hotel complex with Genting Group.

The Justice Department said that it had not found sufficient evidence to justify the filing of bribery charges against Okada regarding $40 million paid to Soriano. Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said, “The problem is while the $40-million payment—which was being made to appear allegedly as consultancy fees and others—was established, we were unable to establish the purpose of the payments because the witnesses were reluctant (to talk).” She said the probe  into the payments would continue. US investigators are also looking into the payments.