Casiño: Suspend PAGCOR’s Manila Entertainment City deal

CITING irregularities and possible constitutional transgressions, a  lawmaker has called for the suspension of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) Entertainment City project until the “air is cleared.”

“There is a serious issue on the deal’s constitutionality,” said Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Teddy Casiño, author of House Resolution 2809 urging the House Committee on Games and Amusements to investigate the matter.

Citing the opinion of the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC), Casiño said Eagle I Landholgings, Inc., one of PAGCOR’s licensees for the Manila Entertainment City project, has violated the Constitution and the Public Land Act since it is not qualified to own land because 64% of its direct and indirect equity is under a foreign entity, Aruze USA, Inc., which is owned by Kazuo Okada.

Casiño said Eagle I and Eagle II, which is supposed to own 60% of Eagle I, are dummy corporations of casino magnate Okada who seems to be over eager at getting the deal.

Casiño said that early this year Okada was taken to court by hotel and casino giant Wynn Resorts, Ltd for Okada’s alleged violations of U.S. anti-corruption laws, as well as the company’s Code of Conduct as an executive officer of the company.

“Mr. Okada and his associates and companies appear to have engaged in a longstanding practice of making payments and gifts to his two chief gaming regulators at the PAGCOR, who directly oversee and regulate Okada’s Provisional Licensing Agreement to operate in that country (Philippines),” Casiño said.

Casiño said the company report further revealed that PAGCOR awarded Okada with four provisional gaming licenses without public bidding. Okada is said to be closely associated with former PAGCOR chair Ephraim Genuino, giving the latter and other PAGCOR officials various perks such as “luxury lodging, extravagant dinners, shopping and cash.”

“The report narrated how Okada brought current PAGCOR chairman Cristino Naguiat and his family to Wynn Macau and treated them in most expensive accommodation,” Casiño said.

“In addition, Okada’s associates asked that each guest be provided a $5,000 cash advance during their stay. According to Wynn Resorts, in September 2010, Naguiat occupied the 7,000 square-feet Villa 81, the most expensive accommodation at the Wynn Resorts Macau, costing US$6,000 per night,” Casiño said.

Casiño said that now that it has been proven that there is indeed manipulation of ownership of legal entities to enable Okada to evade constitutional requirements and acquire land in the Philippines, the government should not just seek to remedy the problem or cure the defects as suggested by OGCC but should hold Okada and PAGCOR accountable.

“Considering the seriousness of the anomalies unearthed regarding the P13-billion land acquisition for the project, as well as the issue of conflict of interest by Genuino who granted the provisional license for Okada’s Tiger Entertainment Co., it would be best for PAGCOR to suspend the projects pending the outcome of investigations, including that of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR),” Casiño said.

Casiño said the current PAGCOR chairman may have violated Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act on grounds of receiving “any gift, present, share, percentage, or benefit” and of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees in agreeing to accept favors from Okada in at least three instances in Las Vegas and Macau.

“Extreme due diligence has to be observed considering that we are dealing here with billions of pesos in taxpayers’ money,” Casiño said.

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