FBI takes probe into Universal payments to Manila: sources

Sat Jan 12, 2013 10:18am EST
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By Manuel Mogato

MANILA (Reuters) - The FBI has sent agents to Manila in a widening of its investigation into millions of dollars of payments made by Japan's Universal Entertainment Corp to a politically connected consultant in relation to its casino project in the Philippines, sources with knowledge of the matter said.

Agents from the Las Vegas office of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation have been in Manila over the past week working with the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), the local agency tasked with looking into the payments as a potential bribery case, the sources said.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino had ordered an official investigation in November to see if the payments were made in relation to the $2 billion casino resort being developed by Universal on Manila Bay.

The investigation has focused on $40 million transferred to Rodolfo Soriano, a close confidante to the former head of the Philippine gaming authority, during the same time Universal sought and won key concessions for its project in 2010.

The FBI had previously questioned people about the payments in the United States. Its involvement in the Philippines marks a widening of its investigation. The NBI's own probe has been slow-moving, according to one of the sources.

Reuters was the first to report on the money transfers to Soriano in mid-November. Universal, majority owned by founder Kazuo Okada and his son through a family trust, has said it carried out its business in the Philippines lawfully. It has also announced the filing of a defamation suit against Reuters in Tokyo for its reporting on the matter.

Universal spokesman Nobuyuki Horiuchi declined to comment on the FBI's involvement in the case.

Officials at the Las Vegas FBI office declined to comment. No one at the NBI could be immediately reached for comment.   Continued...