Posted on: December 2, 2022, 10:04h. 

Last updated on: December 2, 2022, 01:37h.

Japanese gaming tycoon Kazuo Okada, 80, issued a lengthy statement to late Thursday night declaring his innocence regarding the grave coercion charge he’s facing in the Philippines.

Kazuo Okada Manila Philippines TRLEI Universal Entertainment
Kazuo Okada says he’s been the victim of a corporate coup. The Japanese billionaire is trying to regain control of Okada Manila, the multibillion-dollar casino resort in the Philippines that bears his name. (Image: Reuters)

In an email titled, “The Pain of Betrayal,” Okada paints an expose on his career that recounts a lifetime of success.

Okada detailed founding Japan’s Universal Entertainment Corporation (UEC) as an amusement company, and later repositioning the firm through a major bet that “risked the company’s fortune” to develop and manufacture slot-like pachinko games called “pachislot” machines. The gaming magnate, later dubbed the “Pachinko King,” said he used some of his wealth to help Steve Wynn form Wynn Resorts with a 50 billion yen investment in the early 2000s.

Okada later envisioned, built, and opened Okada Manila in the Philippines at a cost of $2.4 billion. Though the Manila project led to Wynn severing ties with Okada after reports surfaced that Okada greased Filipino officials’ pockets in exchange for the gaming license, Okada in his tell-all this week claims he did it all with integrity and class.

Okada writes that his 2017 ousting from Universal and Tiger Resort, Leisure & Entertainment, Inc. (TRLEI), the latter being the parent entity to Okada Manila, was carefully crafted by those who have betrayed him. At the top of his list of treachery is Jun Fujimoto, who remains president at Universal.

Okada says he was introduced to Fujimoto many years ago by friends at Nomura Securities. “I welcomed him [Fujimoto] warmly and took the man in as a board member,” Okada claimed.

Okada Denies Theft

The Universal and TRLEI boards in June 2017 voted to oust Okada from his boardroom seats.

The votes came after a corporate review alleged that Okada improperly transferred $17.3 million in TRLEI funds to a banking account he controlled. Universal officials additionally said they believed Okada stole $2 million from another account belonging to Okada Manila.

Okada has long maintained that the money transfers were within his legal authority. In his statement this week, the billionaire says his vast net worth makes such theft claims baseless.

Fujimoto established an investigative committee with a lawyer whom he had acquired … and had the committee conspire by threatening, coercing, or bribing the then-general manager of the UEC Administration Division and other executives and employees to prepare an investigative report that determined that I had obtained illicit profits from the company,” Okada wrote. “The alleged ill-gotten gains from this report amounted to approximately two billion yen.”

“Until the coup, I controlled approximately 70% of UEC’s stock. It is clear that there is no reason for me to commit a criminal act in order to obtain two billion yen,” Okada asserted. Two billion yen currently equals about $14.7 million.

Pleads for Understanding

Since his 2017 ousting, which Okada claims was led by Fujimoto and supported by Okada’s adult-aged children, the gaming magnate has been seeking to regain control of Universal and TRLEI, and effectively, Okada Manila.

Okada says his reputation is on the line, something that shouldn’t be the case following what he claims is a distinguished career in the global gaming industry spanning more than a half-century.

In the spirit of the holiday season … I sincerely thank the support and cooperation of many Filipinos who stand by me and believe in my righteousness in fighting Jun Fujimoto’s fraudulent and false allegations against me,” Okada continued. “I am more and more determined to recover Okada Manila and UEC from the hands of criminals as soon as possible. I sincerely ask for your understanding and cooperation.”

Okada’s grave coercion charge, however, has nothing to do with whether Okada did or did not steal corporate funds back in 2017. Instead, the case stems from Okada’s forcible takeover of Okada Manila earlier this year.

Armed with a Status Quo Ante Order issued by the Philippines Supreme Court — directing TRLEI to restore its boardroom makeup to its 2017 arrangement with Okada seated — on May 31, a Kazuo-led group stormed Okada Manila’s corporate offices. They removed most executives from the premises. The Kazuo group managed the casino for a little more than three months before the Philippines Department of Justice and Philippines Amusement and Gaming Corporation ordered Okada Manila to be returned to TRLEI.

Okada has retained his TRLEI board seat throughout the legal intra-corporate dispute. The grave coercion case against him in the Philippines continues.