Okada firm hits Reuters on bribe stories, eyes suitBy Daxim L. Lucas
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Universal Entertainment Corp. of Japanese businessman Kazuo Okada on Tuesday assailed the coverage of an international news agency on the alleged bribes paid by the gaming firm to a former consultant of state-owned Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor).
In a press statement, the company that holds one of the four gaming licenses in Pagcor’s Entertainment City development on Manila Bay also threatened Reuters with legal action.
“We believe that Reuters should be fully held to account legally for the damage brought about through their biased reporting, and we are exploring the possibility of taking legal actions against them,” said the Okada-controlled firm.
According to Universal Entertainment, the wire stories published on Nov. 16 and 30, contain a “misrecognition of facts and biases that could have been easily avoided had Reuters engaged in fair and appropriate reporting.”
Reuters reported on Nov. 16 that US gaming regulators were investigating millions of dollars paid by affiliates of Universal to then Pagcor consultant Rodolfo Soriano, when Okada’s company was lobbying the Philippine government to win concessions for a $2-billion casino it was building on Manila Bay.
Soriano’s powerful connections included then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s husband, Jose Miguel, with whom he traveled to Las Vegas in 2009.
Soriano was described as the “bagman” of Efraim Genuino, who was the Pagcor chairman at the time.
A Universal subsidiary made a $5-million payment in May 2010 to Soriano, according to a Reuters examination of bank records, corporate filings, court documents and records prepared by Universal’s staff.
The $5-million payment was made via a shell company in Hong Kong and was part of the $40 million in transfers made by Universal’s US affiliate Aruze USA.
On Nov. 30, Reuters reported that Universal funneled to Soriano at least $30 million, a sum six times the amount initially confirmed by the news agency.
A Hong Kong firm established by Universal sent the money to Soriano through a series of payments in the first half of 2010, according to a review of company records and interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees and people familiar with the investigation.
Misrecognition of facts
“This is a clear misrecognition of the facts,” Universal Entertainment said. “The facts surrounding this company’s Philippine business have already been reported to the Nevada Gaming Authorities through the company’s own compliance committee.”
Reacting to the accusations, Reuters’ news bureau in Manila released a statement saying, “Our stories are accurate and fair and we stand by them and our reporting.”
As its representative earlier said in a probe in the House of Representatives, Universal Entertainment maintained that the alleged payoff was perpetrated by a former company employee who is now being investigated.
Wynn’s legal maneuverings
The Japanese firm also accused Reuters of having played into the legal maneuverings of Okada’s Las Vegas-based rival Steve Wynn, the owner of Wynn Resorts.
“Up to this point, Reuters has been fed information unfavorable to our company by the litigants involved in legal disputes with us,” Universal Entertainment said.
“Reuters has not made any reference to the information related to this case, and has, instead, created doubts about our company on an issue that has never been a problem.”
It also accused the news organization of “intentionally” manufacturing adverse information “without so much as confirming the facts or questioning appropriate persons involved.”
The published stories had, in fact, pointed out that Reuters had tried to get the side of Okada’s group, which declined to comment. But the Japanese firm pointed out that the time limit Reuters allotted for a response was “extremely short.”
‘Full of malice’
“This investigative inquiry gave us no chance to defend ourselves, and was simply empty journalism with a facade of impartiality,” Universal Entertainment added. “Reuters’ reporting is full of malice and our company firmly objects to this.”
Besides the House of Representatives, the Senate and the Department of Justice are investigating the bribery allegations. Universal’s license to operate a casino in Manila could be canceled if it was found to have been obtained through bribery, according to Malacañang.
Pagcor, meanwhile, said yesterday that, despite the allegations of bribery leveled against its previous management, all licensees for the $4-billion Entertainment City project stood on equal footing as far as investors’ benefits were concerned.
“As far as we know, no preferential concession was granted to Tiger Resorts,” Pagcor spokesperson Maricar Bautista said, referring to the local unit of Okada’s gaming empire. “All of the Entertainment City proponents will be paying the same fees and taxes to the government.”