Okada May Get Subpoenaed in Philippines

A committee of the Philippines Congress wants Kazuo Okada to tell them how he plans to comply with a law limiting foreign investors’ stakes in Philippine businesses. Okada and entities he controls are under government investigation on charges they set up straw companies to evade the law.

A lawmaker in the Philippines says he wants Kazuo Okada to respond personally to allegations that companies he controls attempted to evade the country’s 40 percent cap on foreign ownership in winning approval for a US billion Manila megaresort.

Okada’s Tokyo-based Universal Entertainment together with a number of affiliated entities and individuals, including the Japanese billionaire himself, have been under investigation by the Philippine Department of Justice in connection with charges that dummy companies were used so that it would appear that Manila Bay Resorts, as it’s called, was in compliance with the ownership rules.

Since then, three partnerships with Philippine developers designed to bring the project into compliance have fallen through. These include deals with Robinsons Land, First Paramount Holdings 888 and Century Property Group. Both Robinsons and First Paramount withdrew; while Universal’s principal Philippine affiliate, Eagle 1 Landholdings, terminated the partnership with Century in an apparent dispute over control of certain residential and commercial elements planned for the complex, which occupies 44 hectares of a government-sponsored resort district on Manila Bay called Entertainment City.

The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR), the government regulator that owns the district, has temporarily put on hold the license granted to Tiger Resort Leisure and Entertainment, a Philippine subsidiary of Universal, until the ownership issues are resolved.

Tiger maintains Manila Bay Resorts will open on schedule in 2015. But Elpidio Barzaga Jr., who chairs the House of Representatives’ Committee on Games and Amusement, says the panel wants Okada to tell them how that will be accomplished.

“He must come here to personally explain how he plans to comply with the constitutional limitations on foreign ownership after it was discovered that he used fronts,” the representative for Cavite said. “We should subpoena him to ensure his attendance because we cannot rely on just his lawyers’ excuses forever.”

Barzaga accuses attorneys for Okada of stonewalling both the committee and the Justice Department in their investigations.

“We believe we should address this problem now rather than wait until Okada has completed his project and the government would be forced to bend over backward for him just to prevent an international lawsuit,” he said.

PAGCOR has issued four casino licenses at Entertainment City. PSX-listed Bloomberry Resorts holds one. Its Solaire Resort & Casino opened last March. The second, City of Dreams Manila, is slated to open later this year as a joint venture between a Philippine subsidiary of Macau’s Melco Crown Entertainment and a subsidiary of Philippine retail and real estate giant SM Group. PSX-listed Travellers International Hotel Group holds the fourth license. Travellers, a joint venture between Hong Kong-listed Genting Hong Kong and Alliance Global, a major Philippine restaurant and commercial property developer, also owns the country’s largest casino, Resorts World Manila.