Universal to set up panel to probe Philippine payment reports

TOKYO Mon Jan 7, 2013 7:00am EST

TOKYO Jan 7 (Reuters) - Japan's Universal Entertainment Corp said on Monday it would set up a panel of independent experts to investigate media reports about millions of dollars in payments made in relation to its casino project on Manila Bay.

Universal, majority owned by founder Kazuo Okada and his son through a family trust, said in a statement the panel of lawyers and other experts would investigate issues raised in articles by Reuters, the Asahi newspaper and others about the payments.

Universal said that while it has operated in a lawful and rational manner in pursuing the project, it believes an objective examination by a third-party panel would help put investors and other stakeholders at ease.

In early December Universal announced that it had filed a libel suit against Reuters in Tokyo for its reporting on $40 million in payments by Universal to Rodolfo Soriano, a former consultant to the Philippine gaming authority, in 2010.

Earlier on Monday in a separate statement, Universal said it was considering legal action against the Asahi newspaper, which reported about issues with the Philippine casino project and the payments in late December. No one at the Asahi could be immediately reached for comment.

Universal has sued three former employees claiming they made $15 million of the payments without authorization. Two of those employees have filed rebuttals to the Tokyo District Court, both saying they were following orders in directing the payments.

The payments are now the subject of investigations in the Philippines and the United States, where the company is licensed by the gaming regulator in Nevada.

A couple walks along the rough surf during sunset at Oahu's North Shore, December 26, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

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