Kazuo Okada Indicted by Philippines Department of Justice on ‘Grave Coercion’

Posted on: October 4, 2022, 12:51h. 

Last updated on: October 5, 2022, 06:15h.

Japanese billionaire Kazuo Okada, 80, has been charged in the Philippines along with several of his business associates. The legal actions stem from their roles in the forcible takeover of Okada Manila back in May.

Kazuo Okada Manila casino Philippines DOJ
Officials with Tiger Resort, Leisure & Entertainment enter Okada Manila’s corporate offices on September 2 to resume management of the casino. The Philippines Department of Justice has levied charges against Kazuo Okada and his confidants for their unlawful takeover of the resort in May 2022. (Image: The Manila Times)

Prosecutors with the Philippines Department of Justice brought charges against Okada and numerous colleagues of his for “taking the law into their hands.” It was May 31 when a group led by Okada stormed the multibillion-dollar integrated casino resort in Manila’s Entertainment City and assumed control of the property’s operations after forcibly removing the former management team.

Okada justified his actions with a Status Quo Ante Order (SQAO) issued by the Philippines Supreme Court. That instructed Tiger Resort, Leisure & Entertainment, Inc. (TRLEI) — the immediate parent company of Okada Manila — to allow Okada to retake his board seat.

DOJ prosecutors say the SQAO didn’t justify Okada retaking control of his namesake casino, which he built and opened a half-decade ago. Prosecutors released a 25-page indictment that levies grave coercion charges against Okada, Anthony “Tonyboy” Cojuangco, Dindo Espeleta, Florentino “Binky” Herrera III, and others who they say acted unlawfully.

Groups Claims Management

Okada first made his riches by manufacturing pachinko machines through his Japanese company, Aruze Corporation, which today is Universal Entertainment Corporation. Okada became a billionaire by being an early investor in Wynn Resorts.

Wynn Resorts severed its relationship with Okada in 2008 when rumors surfaced that the Japanese billionaire was bribing officials in the Philippines to allow him to build a casino complex in the Southeast Asia nation’s emerging commercial casino market in Manila.

Okada eventually gained a gaming license in the Philippines and spent $2.4 billion to build and open Okada Manila. Okada was ousted from TRLEI and Universal in 2017 on allegations that he was swindling money from the companies for his own personal use — claims Okada has long denied.

The billionaire contends that his adult children, who are today TRLEI and Universal’s largest shareholders, were responsible for his ousting. Okada has since sought to regain control of the firms he founded.

DOJ officials say Okada should have waited for the Supreme Court to act on his petition before he took action. That document asked for him to be granted physical access to the CEO and chairman’s office of TRLEI and Okada Manila.

The Okada Group could not wait for the Supreme Court to first rule and issue a resolution thereon. Instead, they precipitously went ahead with their unlawful plan to take control and possession of Okada Manila in the guise of implementing the SQAO, which contains no specifications on what respondents can only do by virtue thereof,” the indictment read.

Okada Manila was returned to TRLEI in September, and the Okada Group was removed. The Philippines DOJ instructed PAGCOR, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation, to assist TRLEI in resuming managerial control of the casino and resort.

Kidnapping Charges Dropped

While the DOJ says grave coercion charges are warranted against Okada and his associates, prosecutors declined TRLEI requests to bring kidnapping and physical injury complaints. Prosecutors said, the “momentary restraint” of TRLEI executives did not warrant kidnapping or illegal detention charges.

Respondents can only be held accountable for grave coercion,” the DOJ concluded.

Okada remains temporarily part of the TRLEI board, per the Supreme Court order. The company says that could change depending on how the intra-corporate dispute plays out in the nation’s highest court in the coming months.