The Philippine Senate has received a resolution tabled by a lawmaker asking it to investigate allegations of corruption over land let in Manila by a public body to a unit of Hong Kong-listed casino resort investor Landing International Development Ltd.
According to resolution number 858, tabled on Tuesday, Senator Francis Escudero has asked a committee of the Philippine Senate to look at “supposed graft and corruption allegedly committed by the Nayong Pilipino Foundation board of trustees and officials”.
It emerged on the day of ground breaking for the new Manila casino project in early August that the country’s leader, President Rodrigo Duterte, had sacked the entire board of the foundation.
The Philippine government-run Philippine News Agency reported on Wednesday that the Manila project graft allegations refer to 9.57 hectares (26.3 acres) of land let by Nayong Pilipino Foundation to a Landing International subsidiary, Landing Resorts Philippines Development Corp, to build a casino resort.
“Corruption, power play, incompetence and dishonesty, especially if government is involved, adversely affect not only this particular project, but other high-stakes development projects of the government,” Mr Escudero wrote in his resolution.
The Business World news outlet carried on Thursday a statement from the former chair of the Nayong Pilipino Foundation, Patricia Yvette Ocampo, strongly rejecting the allegations.
“Despite the fact that all procedural and legal requirements were strictly followed by the [foundation] board in getting the project off the ground, opponents and critics of the project had shamelessly foisted lies about the project, and falsely and maliciously accused the [foundation], its trustees, and its officials of graft and corruption in approving the deal with Landing Resorts Philippines Development Corp,” Ms Ocampo stated.
Landing International intends to build a US$1.5-billion casino resort and theme park, to be called NayonLanding, on the site in question. It hopes to complete the project in 2022.
President Duterte had said the grounds for dismissing the foundation board were that the land deal for the casino resort project was disadvantageous to the government because it would deprive the landlord of at least PHP517 million (US$9.68 million) a year in rent it could otherwise reasonably expect on the market.
Landing International asserted this month that its lease was valid and that it would press on with its casino resort project in Manila. The company said that unless its lease contract with the foundation was “cancelled or nullified on legal grounds by the courts, Landing International has reason to believe that it is a valid leaseholder and can legally proceed with its project”.
The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp (Pagcor), the Philippine casino regulator, confirmed in July that it had granted a provisional gaming licence to Landing International’s subsidiary. Such permission is subject to conditions, including the validity of the lease, a topic being considered by the national government’s legal counsel.
Landing International has come to general public attention after the firm said in filing on August 23 that it had been unable to reach its chairman, mainland Chinese businessman Yang Zhihui.
It was subsequently reported by Chinese financial media outlet Caixin that Mr Yang had become “the latest target” of mainland authorities looking into people with possible business ties to state-owned China Huarong Asset Management Co Ltd. The latter’s former chairman Lai Xiaomin is under investigation for alleged corruption.
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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