Okada Foes Retake Manila Casino With Regulator Support

September 5, 2022
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Philippine gambling regulator PAGCOR has presided over a second forcible takeover of resort casino Okada Manila, this time expelling managers loyal to mogul Kazuo Okada, in a reversal of its stance on the drawn-out ownership battle.

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Philippine gambling regulator PAGCOR has presided over a second forcible takeover of resort casino Okada Manila, this time expelling managers loyal to mogul Kazuo Okada, in a reversal of its stance on the drawn-out ownership battle.

Videos posted online showed some 50 men dressed in white polo shirts and red caps storming Okada Manila on Friday with PAGCOR and police backing, triggering minor clashes with security personnel before restoring control over the property to Okada’s foes.

The retaking of the property follows Okada’s seizure through his Philippine staff and security personnel in late May, an action that has triggered lawsuits alleging assault and kidnapping of directors.

On that occasion, Okada cited a Supreme Court “status quo ante” order to proceed with the action, which was witnessed by regulator representatives under the previous PAGCOR board.

On Friday, the red-capped team, led by ousted board member James Lorenzana, came armed with an order from new PAGCOR chairman Alejandro Tengco.

The order said the Supreme Court judgment applied only to Okada’s contested stakeholding and titles in Okada Manila operator and owner Tiger Resort, Leisure & Entertainment Inc. (TRLEI) and did not apply to his fellow rival directors.

PAGCOR therefore de-recognised Okada’s TRLEI management and restored control of the property to TRLEI president and COO Byron Yip and parent company Tiger Resorts Asia Limited (TRAL), which is controlled by Universal Entertainment, the Japanese pachinko giant that expelled company founder Okada and his allies in 2017.

“We believe that the order from the PAGCOR affirms our position in the intra-corporate dispute in Okada Manila,” TRAL director Kenshi Asano said in a statement.

“It is consistent with both the letter and spirit of the [status quo ante order] of the Supreme Court. We are hopeful that both the High Tribunal and the Court of Appeals will agree and this issue can be put to rest very soon.”

Okada will retain his status as a stockholder, CEO, chairman and director of TRLEI and access to files, but PAGCOR has cancelled his de facto authority over the property until the courts determine ownership.

The rival operations must also submit a status report by Tuesday.

The Okada camp, meanwhile, decried the PAGCOR order as beyond its authority and said it will launch legal action.

PAGCOR’s responsibility is “merely to validate who is fit to hold a board position in Okada Manila and not to appoint any specific individuals to positions in the company,” the group said in a statement.

PAGCOR’s order was based on a legal opinion on Thursday from justice department secretary Crispin Remulla, which said the Supreme Court decision returned Okada’s titles and shareholding but did not authorise him to name a new TRLEI board, or for it to engage in financial transactions.

The opinion added that PAGCOR was authorised to intervene and restore stability to Okada Manila operations, the online Rappler news service reported today (September 5).

PAGCOR’s removal of Okada’s directors is also noteworthy because Okada ally and billionaire communications tycoon Antonio “Tonyboy” Cojuangco, who Okada named president of the dissident board, formerly served as the current PAGCOR chairman’s boss in the private sector.

PAGCOR’s decision may also serve to lessen potential damage to its board’s reputation as it starts a fresh six-year term, particularly given its hands-washing approach to seemingly lawless conduct by private security personnel during the Okada Manila takeover in May.

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