Exclusive: Philippines fixer paid $30 million by Okada's Universal - sources

Fri Nov 30, 2012 1:46am EST
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By Nathan Layne and Joseph Menn

TOKYO/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Japanese billionaire Kazuo Okada's Universal Entertainment funneled at least $30 million to an ex-consultant for the Philippines gaming authority who is now at the center of a bribery investigation, according to sources and company records.

The sum is six times the amount initially confirmed by Reuters and could, if found to be bribery, result in Okada being stripped of his firm's casino license in the Philippines and also jeopardize his gaming license in Las Vegas.

A Hong Kong firm established by Okada's Universal sent the money to Manila-based consultant Rodolfo Soriano in 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.

Soriano, who has close ties to key members of the administration of former Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, received the payments as Universal was lobbying for tax and other government concessions to boost the profitability of a $2 billion casino it was developing on Manila Bay.

Soriano is now under investigation by the Philippine Department of Justice which has created an inquiry panel on the payments with a target to submit findings within the next month.

Universal, a Tokyo-based maker of gaming machines majority owned by an Okada family trust, had no comment through its lawyer, Yuki Arai. Soriano could not be reached for comment.

In addition to the investigation in the Philippines, the Universal payments are being probed by U.S. gaming regulators, with the Nevada Gaming Control Board likely to call the 70-year-old billionaire to give evidence at a closed-door investigative hearing, people familiar with the matter said.

Soriano's powerful connections included Arroyo's husband, Jose Miguel, with whom he had travelled to Las Vegas in 2009.   Continued...

Japanese billionaire Kazuo Okada attends the opening ceremony of his dining complex in Hong Kong May 15, 2012. REUTERS/Bobby Yip