On Monday, October, 17, Philippine police arrested Japanese gaming magnate Kazuo Okada when he deplaned at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila. Okada is charged with using “grave coercion” to seize control of the Okada Manila integrated resort (IR) in May.
He was released after posting bond, according to the Philippine SunStar newspaper.
“I insisted on coming back to the Philippines despite several warnings from my lawyers that I may be detained by the authorities,” Okada said in a statement on October 18. “I want to show to the Filipino people and the world that I am not afraid. I came back to face this ‘grave coercion’ charge against me and my associates. I have nothing to fear when I know I am standing on the right side of the law.”
Some Okada associates who were involved in the takeover also face legal action, including Antonio “Tonyboy” Cojuangco, Dindo Espeleta and lawyer Florentino “Binky” Herrera. The incident occurred May 31, after the Philippine Supreme Court reinstated Okada as chairman of the casino’s operator, Tiger Resort Leisure and Entertainment Inc. (TRLEI).
The dispute goes back to 2017, when the billionaire was ousted from the companies he founded, including TRLEI, its parent, Tiger Resorts Asia Ltd. (TRAL), and Universal Entertainment Corp. (UEC), also founded by Okada. He got the boot for allegedly embezzling and misusing company funds, but insisted he could not embezzle his own money. He worked for years to regain control of the entities that control the IR in Manila’s Entertainment City casino zone.
Last spring, when the Supreme Court issued a so-called status quo ante order (SQAO) to restore Okada as chairman, he saw it as an opportunity to also reinstate the board that governed Okada Manila before his removal. The high court later clarified that the SQAO did not empower Okada to form a new board.
A power struggle ensued, and on September 2, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR), which regulates gaming in the country, ordered the Okada-backed group to exit the IR and make way for the previous board.
“We are grateful to the Philippine authorities for their swift arrest of Kazuo Okada,” said TRLEI director Kenshi Asano. “We will continue to work with the law enforcement units to bring Kazuo Okada to justice, as we have done in the past in other jurisdictions. As we wrap things up in fixing the mess that the Kazuo Okada Group brought to Okada Manila, we are optimistic that the intra corporate dispute will soon be resolved by the Philippine courts.”
According to Nikkei Asia, the dispute has delayed a plan to list the multibillion-dollar IR on the Nasdaq through a merger with 26 Capital Acquisition. The listing, which was to have been complete at the end of June, was then pushed back to September 30. It was delayed again to 2023 because of the intra-corporate dispute. According to the International Investor, the feud “is over who gets to control Okada Manila—the ‘goose’ that lays 60 percent of Universal Entertainment’s ‘golden eggs.’”
Okada Manila has more than 376,000 square feet of gaming space; two hotel towers with 993 luxury rooms; a retail district; and one of the world’s largest fountain attractions.
An arraignment for Kazuo Okada’s case is set for this week, according to the current board. Asano said, “We will continue to work with the law enforcement units to bring Kazuo Okada to justice, as we have done in the past in other jurisdictions.”
The Philippine Justice Department has dismissed some complaints against Okada and his team including kidnapping, assault and “unjust vexation.” Okada remains defiant, and says he will continue to “ensure that those who fooled and robbed me in Okada Manila be sent to jail for their lies, deceit and usurping operational control” of the IR.
He’s out to prove that he is “the rightful and beneficial owner of Okada Manila. I am confident that the legal process within the Philippine courts system will vindicate us in all the cases filed against me and my business associates.”