Universal Entertainment Corp said in a filing to Jasdaq on Wednesday that investigations in the Philippines and in Japan into the company and its chairman Kazuo Okada (pictured) “have concluded”. It added it expected related inquiries in the United States to be closed for “lack of evidence”.
The company and some of its executives have been investigated on two continents for alleged illegal payments linked to the under-construction US$2 billion Manila Bay Resorts casino project in the Philippines capital.
In a separate development on Thursday, gaming regulators in the U.S. state of Mississippi renewed Mr Okada’s operating licence there, saying they based the decision on their own investigation and not on press reports about allegations of bribery in the Philippines. But they added the approval was on condition that an ongoing Federal Bureau of Investigation inquiry in the U.S. regarding his Philippines casino project is resolved without charges against him.
On Wednesday, Universal Entertainment said that the director of the Philippines’ National Bureau of Investigation, Virgilio Mendez, sent two reports to the Gaming and Amusement Committee of the country’s House of Representatives on February 2, 2015. The reports were said to have been compiled by a fact-finding panel and dated June 28, 2013 and September 24, 2014.
“We are pleased to announce that all inspections or investigations by government related bodies – of the group and its officers and employees in relation to the groundless suspicion – have thereby concluded for all practical purposes in the Philippines just as all investigations … in Japan have concluded,” the company stated.
Allegations of bribery relating to Mr Okada’s Manila casino scheme have been the subject of separate investigations by the Philippines Department of Justice, the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office, the U.S. Department of Justice – via a grand jury summons – and by Nevada’s gaming regulator.
Universal Entertainment had said in December that the Prosecutor General of the Philippines had proposed to the country’s Secretary of Justice to terminate the investigation in that country. The company added at that time that the investigation by the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office in Japan into alleged bribery of public officials in the Philippines had concluded with a decision “not to institute prosecution against Mr Okada”.
In Wednesday’s filing, Universal Entertainment said it also expects related investigations by U.S. authorities to close, following what it says are the conclusion of probes in the Philippines and Japan. One of Universal Entertainment’s subsidiaries, casino equipment maker Aruze USA Inc, is a licensed supplier in a number of U.S. gaming markets.
“We consider that having received the above investigation results by investigative authorities in the Philippines and Japan – which are understood to be the place of the [alleged] act and the place where the results occurred for the suspicion – the investigation [in the U.S.] will be closed due to the lack of evidence,” said the company.
Mr Okada was once casino operator Wynn Resorts Ltd’s biggest single shareholder. But in 2012, Wynn Resorts decided to buy out forcibly Mr Okada’s 20 percent stake in the company at a discount.
That move by Wynn Resorts followed a year-long internal investigation that alleged that the Japanese businessman offered cash payments and gifts totalling approximately US$110,000 to executives at the Philippines casino regulator, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp, breaching U.S. anti-corruption laws.
Mr Okada, Wynn Resorts and its chairman Steve Wynn have since been involved in a lengthy series of lawsuits, taking place both in the U.S. and Japan.
(Updated on Mar 20, 9.50am)
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"If the [Macau casino] concessions are put up for bid, there will also be a lot of giant Chinese companies, some having nothing to do with gaming, which would like to take over these enormously successful casinos”
Professor emeritus at Whittier Law School in California, in the United States, and a visiting professor at University of Macau