A panel of outside experts convened by Japan’s Universal Entertainment Corp to investigate US$40 million in payments related to its Philippine casino project said it was disbanding.
The four-person panel said in a brief statement distributed to reporters in Tokyo yesterday that it would disband indefinitely because Universal had not made public an interim report submitted to the company in March, Reuters reports. It did not elaborate.
The money is under investigation by law enforcement agencies in the United States and the Philippines as possible bribery to advance a US$2 billion casino Universal is building on Manila Bay. Universal has denied such allegations and has said it conducted its business lawfully in the Philippines.
The payments have been paid to two companies controlled by Rodolfo Soriano, who has worked closely with Efraim Genuino, until June 2010 the chairman of the Philippine gaming regulator Pagcor.
Universal Entertainment is controlled by Kazuo Okada, a former investor in Wynn Resorts Ltd. He was ejected as a shareholder of Wynn Resorts and as a board member of Wynn Macau Ltd in February 2012.
It followed the filing of a Wynn-commissioned report that found Mr Okada was “unsuitable” as a partner and a threat to the casino company’s Nevada licence because of the way he was pursuing the Manila casino deal.
In June 2013, Universal released a summary of the findings of a first report drafted by the panel of experts, which concluded that there was no evidence to support allegations of bribery. It was critical of the company’s governance though, blaming a lack of oversight on overseas operations for allowing payments to be made in error.
At the time, the authors of the Universal-commissioned report were Yoshiyuki Kaneshige, a former police agency official in Japan who now heads a management consultancy, and attorneys Teruki Uchida and Takujiro Hamada. In August, Universal announced the panel would add a fourth member and further investigate the responsibility of those involved in the payments, Reuters said.
The company has not made any disclosure in relation to the panel’s investigation since then. Guidelines set by Japan’s Federation of Bar Associations state that, in principle, the findings of such investigations should be disclosed to stakeholders without delay.
Mr Okada, who made his initial fortune from pachinko machines in Japan, may have to appear before members of the lower house of the Philippine Congress, who want him to personally explain allegations he put up dummy companies to meet his casino licence requirements. Pagcor temporarily suspended the licence granted to Universal.
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"I am not going to speculate on what the [casino licence refreshment] tender requirements would be. I have full confidence and faith in the Macau government to treat everyone fairly"
Wilfred Wong Ying Wai
President and chief operating officer of Macau-based casino operator Sands China