MANILA Jan 12 The FBI has sent agents to Manila
in a widening of its investigation into millions of dollars of
payments made by Japan's Universal Entertainment Corp
to a politically connected consultant in relation to its casino
project in the Philippines, sources with knowledge of the matter
Agents from the Las Vegas office of the U.S. Federal Bureau
of Investigation have been in Manila over the past week working
with the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), the local
agency tasked with looking into the payments as a potential
bribery case, the sources said.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino had ordered an official
investigation in November to see if the payments were made in
relation to the $2 billion casino resort being developed by
Universal on Manila Bay.
The investigation has focused on $40 million transferred to
Rodolfo Soriano, a close confidante to the former head of the
Philippine gaming authority, during the same time Universal
sought and won key concessions for its project in 2010.
The FBI had previously questioned people about the payments
in the United States. Its involvement in the Philippines marks a
widening of its investigation. The NBI's own probe has been
slow-moving, according to one of the sources.
Reuters was the first to report on the money transfers to
Soriano in mid-November. Universal, majority owned by founder
Kazuo Okada and his son through a family trust, has said it
carried out its business in the Philippines lawfully. It has
also announced the filing of a defamation suit against Reuters
in Tokyo for its reporting on the matter.
Universal spokesman Nobuyuki Horiuchi declined to comment on
the FBI's involvement in the case.
Officials at the Las Vegas FBI office declined to comment.
No one at the NBI could be immediately reached for comment.
The NBI plans to submit an interim progress report next week
and ask for more time to complete its investigation, one of the
All of the sources spoke on condition of anonymity because
the investigation is still ongoing.
The payments to Soriano have also been the subject of two
congressional hearings in the Philippines and are being probed
by the Nevada Gaming Control Board, which regulates Universal
operations in the United States.
NBI agents have escorted their FBI counterparts to various
locations including the properties of Soriano and Efraim
Genuino, the former head of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming
Corporation (PAGCOR), one of the sources said.
Soriano and Genuino could not be reached for comment.
Universal broke ground on the project in January 2012, but
PAGCOR under its new chairman has threatened to strip the
Japanese company of its license if evidence of bribery is found.
Universal has filed suit in Tokyo against three former
employees, claiming they sent $15 million of the total $40
million in transfers without authorization. In rebuttals filed
with the court, the employees have either refuted the company's
allegations or asked for the disclosure of more information.
Earlier this week Universal announced that it had set up a
panel of experts without ties to the company to independently
investigate the matter.