Japan tycoon broke Philippine fake firm law

MANILA - Philippine investigators recommended Monday that charges be filed against Japanese gambling tycoon Kazuo Okada for allegedly creating dummy firms to buy land for a Manila casino project, the Justice Department said.

Investigators said similar charges should be filed against 25 other individuals who helped the Japanese billionaire set up at least three firms to establish the billion dollar casino at Manila's bayfront Entertainment City.

There was clear evidence that the firms established by Okada "were a front for Universal Entertainment, meant to circumvent or evade laws of nationalisation of certain rights, franchises and privileges", Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said.

Okada controls Universal Entertainment Corp., while under the Philippine constitution, only citizens or companies which are 60-per cent-owned by Filipinos can own land.

"They are liable for violating the Anti-Dummy Law," de Lima told AFP. She said the Justice Department's National Bureau of Investigation was reproducing "voluminous documentary evidence" to be turned over to state prosecutors who will then determine whether the case should proceed in court.

Okada holds one of four licences handed out by the gaming regulator Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) to build casinos each worth at least US$1 billion at Entertainment City.

Of the other franchises, one involves a joint venture between Australian billionaire James Packer, Macau gambling tycoon Lawrence Ho and a firm held by the family of shopping mall magnate Henry Sy, the Philippines' richest man.

A company controlled by Philippine shipping billionaire Enrique Razon was the first of the franchise holders to open a casino, called Solaire, earlier this year.

The Okada group could not be immediately reached for comment Monday, although Okada had previously said the project in Manila was above board.

The Japanese tycoon's project was also roiled in controversy last year when he was sued in the United States by American partner Steve Wynn in a case involving their casino businesses in Las Vegas and Macau.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino subsequently ordered an enquiry into Wynn's allegations that people working for Okada gave illegal gifts to top Pagcor officials to get a license.

The Justice Department said Monday there was insufficient evidence that Okada had been involved in bribery.