Three banks have frozen the accounts of integrated resort Okada Manila, the Philippines' biggest casino, as an ownership battle threatens to strip more than 5,000 employees of salaries and imperil overall operations.
External legal counsel for the casino’s ousted Tiger Resorts, Leisure and Entertainment Inc (TRLEI) management and its parent Tiger Resort Asia Ltd said on Sunday (June 19) that BDO Unibank, Asia United Bank and Union Bank of the Philippines froze the accounts after the rival groups failed to cooperate on a salaries deal.
BDO Unibank demanded that the ousted board and their rivals backed by Japanese pachinko king Kazuo Okada agree on terms for the payment of staff while the dispute is heard by the courts, attorney Estrella Elamparo said in a statement.
“Despite being on the right side of the law, the legitimate board of TRLEI decided to draft and sign the agreement, understanding the welfare of the employees is at stake,” she said.
“However, the camp of Kazuo Okada was not keen on signing the agreement, imposing unreasonable conditions.”
Elamparo warned that the Kazuo Okada group could use cash in the casino’s cage to pay salaries, but that this could only be a temporary measure after the freezing of the accounts.
“We expect [Okada Manila’s] funds to dwindle in the coming weeks, putting not only guests at the losing end, but at the same time putting at risk its over 5,000 employees, many of whom rely on their salaries to meet their daily needs,” she said.
The banks have also filed interpleader cases with the courts to accelerate a resolution, the statement said.
“No bank will engage with an entity under an ownership dispute. Once Okada Manila’s funds start to run dry, they will have problems dealing with the operations of the integrated casino resort.”
Tensions over the forcible takeover of Okada Manila on May 31 have continued to boil in the absence of moderating influence by the courts or gambling regulator PAGCOR.
The takeover was sparked by a Supreme Court order that temporarily restored the Okada group’s authority over the companies following a family feud in 2017 that saw Okada lose control of the Japanese parent Universal Entertainment and its subsidiaries.
But the manner of the takeover has shocked even observers accustomed to the wild west mechanics of Philippine commerce, with directors and staff expelled from the premises by private security guards amid reported violence and kidnapping, alleged acts that are also the subject of lawsuits.
On June 14, the ousted board of parent Tiger Resorts Asia Ltd released a public advisory that warned transactions with the usurping board, led by chairman and CEO Kazuo Okada, president Antonio “Tonyboy” Cojuangco and vice chairman Dindo Espeleta, would “not be honoured or recognised”.
A Nasdaq listing is also hanging in the balance after the ousted board’s US-based partner, Jason Ader and his special purpose acquisition company 26 Capital, declined to recognised the Okada group.
The takeover “is clearly intended by Okada to stop our IPO”, Ader told the online Rappler news service on Friday (June 17).
“The merger [of Okada Manila and 26 Capital] will create the biggest Philippine public company in the US.
“There will be no bigger public company on Nasdaq or the New York Stock Exchange. It will even be bigger than when [telecommunications company] PLDT was listed in the US.
“This is a very exciting event that I am proud to be a part of and we’re not gonna let Kazuo Okada and his sham board try to stop it,” he said.
“They’d like to stop it because, when that happens, we will have the US capital market behind us and I think we’ll be virtually impenetrable thereafter."