Universal directors summoned to Nevada gaming hearing-sources

TOKYO/SAN FRANCISCO, March 8 Thu Mar 7, 2013 12:01pm EST

TOKYO/SAN FRANCISCO, March 8 (Reuters) - Universal Entertainment Corp founder Kazuo Okada and three other directors of the Japanese gaming company have been summoned by the Nevada casino regulator to a closed-door hearing next week, two people with direct knowledge of the matter said.

The hearing marks an escalation of an investigation the Nevada Gaming Control Board initiated last year into $40 million in payments by Universal to a politically-connected consultant in relation to its casino project in the Philippines.

Separately, the FBI and its Philippine counterpart, the National Bureau of Investigation, have been investigating the payments to consultant Rodolfo Soriano, people with knowledge of those criminal investigations said.

Universal has said it conducted its business in the Philippines lawfully, and has announced a defamation lawsuit against Reuters for its reporting on the payments to Soriano. Soriano could not be reached for comment.

The Nevada Gaming Control Board declined to comment on whether a hearing had been called. A Universal spokesman also declined to comment.

It was not clear when or whether Nevada regulators would take any action in their review of Universal. The regulator has the power to revoke gaming licenses if it finds that individuals involved in the industry are unsuitable.

In addition to Okada, who is Universal's board chairman, Nevada regulators have summoned Hajime Tokuda, Kenshi Asano, and Hiroyuki Sawada to the hearing scheduled for March 13-14. All four plan to attend, said the sources, who didn't want to be identified because of the private nature of the hearing. None of the four have been accused of any wrongdoing.

For more than a year Okada has been locked in a legal battle with Wynn Resorts Ltd Chief Executive Steve Wynn, during which the former business partners have exchanged allegations of illegal conduct.

Okada resigned from Wynn's board last month ahead of a shareholder meeting to remove the Japanese billionaire on grounds he was "unsuitable". Okada has rejected Wynn's allegations and vowed to fight the forcible redemption of his 20 percent stake in the U.S. casino company at a discount last year.