A Nevada court hearing on Tuesday spent time looking at specific claims about how Las Vegas Sands Corp and its Macau unit Sands China Ltd have conducted business in Macau. It included whether either had links to a Chinese businessman described in a U.S. congressional report as sending more than US$1 million to the U.S. to help fund Democratic Party candidates.
Las Vegas Sands’ founder and chairman Sheldon Adelson (pictured) had a fourth day under questioning by lawyers for Steve Jacobs, a former chief executive of Sands China dismissed in July 2010.
Mr Jacobs has claimed in previous court filings that he was asked to do what he described as “outrageous” things on behalf of his employer – including compiling a confidential report on the business activities of then members of the Macau government – and was dismissed when he complained about some of the requests. Sands China says he was dismissed for “cause” including unauthorised deal making, which Mr Jacobs denies.
A U.S. District judge in Las Vegas is deciding whether she has jurisdiction to hear a wrongful termination claim by Mr Jacobs.
Mr Adelson was asked by Mr Jacobs’ side on Tuesday if he had ever met a Macau businessman named Ng Lap Seng. He said he hadn’t but that he knew the name.
“I heard that he was a real estate developer or that he was the head of the real estate developers’ association or something,” said Mr Adelson, according to a report of proceedings carried in the online edition of the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper.
A U.S. congressional investigation in 1998 found that Mr Ng acted as an intermediary in sending more than US$1 million to the U.S. to help fund some Democratic Party candidates’ campaigns. The case led to suspicions of Chinese government attempts to influence U.S. elections. Mr Ng also visited the White House and met with President Bill Clinton while he was in office.
There are also photographs online carrying a dateline of July 1, 2010, of Mr Ng at an Assemblée Nationale reception in Paris. According to an accompanying text and photographs, the event was also attended by at least one French lawmaker, retired senior French military officials and Bernard Debré, a former minister under President François Mitterrand.
Asked in the Nevada court hearing on Tuesday about a report Mr Jacobs is said to have commissioned on Mr Ng’s activities, Mr Adelson replied: “There’s a lot of Ngs in Macau. It’s not as common as Kim or Park in Korea, but there’s a lot of Ngs.”
During Tuesday’s hearing, legal counsel for Mr Jacobs put it to Mr Adelson that Mr Ng has been a Chinese People’s Political Consultative Committee member and that he had acted as “a courier” for Mr Adelson’s company.
“I know of nobody in the company who had dealings with Ng,” stated Mr Adelson.
Counsel for Mr Jacobs asked Mr Adelson about a company email – made public in 2012 by the Wall Street Journal – said to be from Macau lawyer Leonel Alves suggesting it would cost US$300 million to resolve some problems the company was having.
Mr Adelson said Mr Alves – who is a Macau legislator and a member of the Executive Council (a body of appointees that advise the city’s chief executive and government) as well as being a lawyer hired by Sands China – was simply passing along a message about how much it would cost to settle a complex case and that the payments were never made.
In a 2012 interview with Radio Macau, Mr Alves explained he was first approached in Beijing by a high-profile Macau developer. Mr Alves didn’t name that person but said he was mainly proposing to help reach what was described as an extrajudicial settlement for ongoing litigation between Sands China and a Taiwan company called Asian American Entertainment Corporation Ltd, led by businessman Marshall Hao Shi-sheng. The unidentified middleman additionally offered to help Sands China gain government authorisation to sell access to units at its Four Seasons’ apartment-hotel tower on Cotai, Mr Alves said at the time.
Mr Adelson was asked specifically during Tuesday’s Nevada court hearing about obtaining Macau government permission to sell access to Sands China’s Four Seasons’ apartment-hotel tower in Macau, according to an Associated Press report of the hearing.
“I want to rephrase. It was a misunderstanding,” Mr Adelson responded when Mr Jacobs’ attorney, James Pisanelli, asked him to describe an earlier comment about broken commitments by government officials regarding strata title.
“We thought it was condos [condominiums]. They thought, I’m not sure, that it was apartments rented out like hotels,” Mr Adelson said.
The entrepreneur added in relation to Mr Alves’ email mentioning US$300 million: “There was no bribery. It never happened. Companies like ours are getting offers from people every day: from India; from Russia; yesterday from Kazakhstan.”
He said the company rejects such offers – often connected to the opening of casinos – because they “smell of bribery”, according to Guardian’s report.
When the email attributed to Mr Alves was reported in the Wall Street Journal article, the Chief Executive of Macau, Fernando Chui Sai On, said at the time that Mr Alves had personally given him an explanation about what had happened, and he, Mr Chui, had “accepted” it.
On Tuesday in court, Mr Adelson denied that the US$300 million figure was in part to pay off government officials.
Mr Pisanelli also asked Mr Adelson why the firm had agreed to pay US$700,000 in legal fees to Mr Alves even though the company’s in-house lawyers and Mr Jacobs had warned that the payment was far in excess of normal rates paid by Sands China for legal work and could risk violating US anti-bribery law if Mr Alves were perceived to be using his political positions to influence officials.
“Mr Jacobs tells you this stinks to high heaven and you instruct that Alves remain associated with the company?” the lawyer asked Mr Adelson.
The entrepreneur countered that Mr Pisanelli was trying to smear Mr Alves through association.
“You could bring in Mao Zedong, you could bring in Mussolini, you could bring in Stalin, you could bring in Hitler. You could bring in all the bad guys in the world,” said Mr Adelson.
Mr Pisanelli further suggested to Mr Adelson that his own senior executives said that Mr Alves’ fees were “outrageous and smelled of illegality”.
Mr Adelson said he had not done anything illegal in his life and defended Mr Alves. “The man in my opinion was an honest … I mean, he was a good attorney,” he said.
The hearing continues.
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Chairman of electronic casino game distributor Asia Pioneer Entertainment