Gaming regulator Cristino Naguiat Jr. “will be asked to explain himself” when he goes under a investigation for supposedly receiving illegal gifts from Japanese gambling resort tycoon Kazuo Okada, President Benigno Aquino III said Friday.
Aquino said “(t)here is a formal process” Naguiat will undergo.
Naguiat is chairman and CEO of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR), a major resource of the President’s Social Fund (PSF) through which Malacañang implements special projects.
"Everybody who has been proven to have done something they should not have done, or neglected to do what they should have, (will be) meted appropriate sanctions," the President said.
Aquino did not elaborate on possible sanctions but he pointed out that “there is presumption of innocence until proven guilty. In this particular instance, I think we should afford… (Naguiat) also the benefit of hearing him out before we make any judgment.”
But before the investigation gets underway, the President wants to see the specific allegations against the PAGCOR chief.
“Maganda siguro makita 'yung talagang specific allegations. Ang problema… two major players in the gaming industry who have suddenly fallen out of each other,” he said.
“I guess the least that chairman Naguiat should be able to expect is that he gets a fair hearing. Let’s have the allegations, let him answer it and we will weigh the allegations versus his defense of his actions or lack of action,” Aquino added.
US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act
Aquino’s decision to have the PAGCOR chief investigated came after United States-based Wynn Resorts alleged that estranged business partner Kazuo Okada had lavished more than $110,000 on Naguiat and other Philippine officials to ensure the Japanese’s plans for a Manila casino went ahead.
The lawsuit, filed in a US court on Tuesday, said the payments by Okada, who made his fortune on a Japanese pinball-like gambling game called pachinko, were in apparent violation of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
The suit alleged that Okada billeted Naguiat, his wife, three children, a nanny and other PAGCOR officials in Wynn Macau hotel rooms during a five day stay in 2010.
Okada supposedly ordered that each of the guests be given a $5,000 advance for shopping during their stay in Macau.
Naguiat, appointed by Aquino just a few months earlier to PAGCOR's top post with a mandate to eradicate graft within the regulator, allegedly stayed at the resort's most expensive room at $6,000 a night.
It also narrated that Naguiat requested and received a Chanel designer bag worth more than $1,850 for his wife.
Naguiat confirmed to President Aquino that he stayed in the luxury suite, but denied accepting cash gifts. He said the Chanel bag was given to him, but that he returned it.
Aquino said there seemed to be malice when it was reported that Naguiat was given an expensive bag but the report did not mention that the latter immediately returned it.
“In the report sinabi na me binigay na bag tapos nilagyan ng footnote na fineprint, parang napakaliit na print, na hindi tinanggap o isinoli yung bag. Iha-highlight yung binigay... Pero sinoli nila agad hindi na binanggit na sinoli. parang may malice naman yata ‘yun,” he said.
Aquino’s order to investigate came after his spokesperson, Edwin Lacierda, repeatedly asserted this week that Naguiat had done nothing wrong.
The comments sparked public criticism that Aquino, who has portrayed himself as a zero-tolerance graft buster, was being lenient on one of his appointees. Investigators' report The document Wynn filed before the Nevada court alleged, “Mr. Okada, his associates and companies made payment exceeding US$ 110,000, which directly benefited senior PAGCOR officials, including two chairman and their family members.”
“Chairman Naguiat did not identify himself and Mr. Okada’s representatives insisted that his stay there be “incognito” and so the bulk of the charges for the… visit were “reflected in the City Ledge Account as attributable to “Suzzanne Bangsil” the wife of Rogelio Bangsil…” according to court records attributed to investigators Wynn hired to help build the case against Okada.
Rogelio Bangsil was identified in a chart attached to the court records as officer-in-charge of PAGCOR gaming department.
Attributed to Mrs. Bangsil was the amount of $50,523.22. Wynn’s investigators said “this US$ 50,523.22 was paid for Chairman Naguiat’s benefit.”
Okada, according to the investigators’ report, had Naguiat billeted at Villa 81 Master Bedroom 1, which was described as “the most expensive accommodation at Wynn Resorts Macau and is mostly reserved for high rollers.”
The expense account Okada used when charging expenses for his guests listed other PAGCOR officials who were guests at Wynn Macau at various times from May 2008 to June 2011.
Okada's Universal Entertainment was awarded a license in 2008 to build a gaming resort on the shores of Manila Bay with three hotels and 2,000 guest rooms.
PAGCOR officials have said the controversy will not affect the project, which is due to be completed in 2014. — With Agence France-Presse/Amita Legaspi/ELR/VS