FAMILY FEUD: Who really owns Okada Manila?

 THE feuding camps claiming ownership of casino-hotel Okada Manila are expecting the Supreme Court of the Philippines to decide in less than a few weeks who between them is itsreal owner. 

But rather than wait for it, the two camps—one representing Japanese businessman Kazuo Okada and the other led by his son Tomohiro–have remained aggressive towards each other, reaching out to Philippine government officials to explain their respective sides, if not filing charges left and right against each other with various government offices. 

Amid all that, the camp of Tomohiro has expressed willingness, as suggested by many, to bury the hatchet and recognize the role as founder of his father Kazuo, who has taken control anew of the controversial casino hotel based on a status quo ante order from the high court in April, and, possibly, give him, the elder Okada, a graceful and dignified exit from the controversy. 

The high court’s order reinstated Kazuo as Okada Manila’s chair, as shareholder and director. 

Tomohiro camp’s lawyer Estrella Elamparo said in an interview at the Kamuning Bakery forumthat the controversy came as a result, if not the cause, of a family feud and, chances were, there could have been—or there would be–behind-the-scenes talks to settle the controversy out of court. 

But she was not personally aware of any talks right now, she said.  

Ownership not negotiable
There was, however, one thing Tomohiro’s camp was not willing to give up—the company ownership, according to Elamparo, legal counsel of the Tomohiro-controlled Tiger Resort Leisure and Entertainment, Inc., which is 99-percent owned by Hong Kong-based Tiger Resorts Asia Ltd. or TRAL.

“The ownership is non-negotiable,” she told this newsman. 

The ownership is the sum and substance of the family feud. 

“The legal counsel of Kazuo claimed that because Kazuo had some voting stakes in Okada Holdings, he was empowered to decide on matters regarding Okada Manila or even TRAL,” Elamparo said. 

Okada Manila is owned by TRAL, which is owned by Universal Entertainment Corporation, which is owned by Okada Holdings (67.90 percent) and other shareholders (32.10 percent). Okada Holdings is owned by the Okada family, with Kazuo holding 46.38 percent voting rights; his son Tomohiro, 53.27 percent voting rights; and Kazuo’s estranged wife Takako, 0.36 percent voting rights. 

“The ownership structure is clear,” Elamparo said, “Kazuo only has a minority stake in the parent company and does not own a single share in Okada Manila.”

Feud in its 5th year
The high court will have to settle that. Issues notwithstanding, the prospect of an amicable settlement and giving Kazuo an esteemed, emeritus status should not be a far-fetched idea among Japanese men, according to Prof. Enrique Soriano, a World Bank consultant on family-run businesses. 

“Perhaps, that is what (the older) Okada has been waiting for,” he said in the forum. 

The camp of the older Okada has not replied when asked for a comment. 

The camps of Okada father and son have been at odds over who is the real owner of Okada Manila, derailing operations and original expansion plans which were supposed to have been implemented in at least the last five years, all because of the animosity between them.

Where it began
Standing on a 44-hectare property in Parañaque City, Okada Manila began in 2016 its hotel and casino operations, with 993 suites and villas, 500 table games and 3,000 electronic gaming machines, making it one of the grandest casino-resorts operating in the Philippines.

Kazuo is married, with three children. They all live in Tokyo. 

All was well, until Kazuo was accused in 2017 of “misappropriating millions of dollars” from his holding company, Okada Holdings, prompting Universal Entertainment Corp. of Japan, which controls Tiger Resort Asia Ltd, to remove him as chair.  

It set the Okada house on fire. 

In 2019, a Parañaque court issued a warrant of arrest against Kazuo, citing three cases involving his receipt of US$3.1 million alleged unauthorized compensation as chief executive officer (CEO) of Tiger Resort Leisure & Entertainment, operator of Okada Manila. 

The charges and the subsequent warrant sent the Okada family on the rocks; and in the mind of lawyers and others around them, it was a point of no return. How it came up–or down—to that level, nobody could explain, except to say that it was its most visible trigger all right. 

What’s it all about, Kazuo?
But charges against Okada in Hong Kong and in a Parañaque court were subsequently dismissed.

On December 9, 2021, the Court of Appeals trashed the 2019 Parañaque court decision and issuance of arrest warrant, saying the lower court had acted with grave abuse of discretion. 

In a statement released in September 2018, Okada said the charges against him were Fabricated and were meant only to harass him and justify his ouster.

“Far from being valid cases, their baseless accusations only serve to demonstrate the grand conspiracy perpetrated by my detractors who betrayed my trust,” the statement read. 

But what the court failed to stop was the controversy giving birth to a new corporate set-up. 

Okada son rises 
Universal had asked Kazuo’s family members to vote him out of his Okada Holdings’ leadership. In turn, Tomohiro, who held 43.38 percent share in Okada Holdings in 2017, signed a trust agreement with his sister Hiromi that gave him control over her shares. Their stepmother Takako, who held 0.36 voting rights, joined them, making them the majority shareholders, with Tomohiro as leader. 

Together, Kazuo’s family and their associates, from Okada Holdings, Universal Entertainment Corp. of Japan, TRAL asked the Supreme Court to lift the status quo ante order and take Kazuo and his local partners, among them, businessman Antonio “Tonyboy” Cojuangco, out of Okada Manila. 

‘Majority no more’
In a statement sent to certain government officials on July 26, Jun Fujimoto, the CEO and Representative Director of Universal Entertainment Corp., disowned Kazuo. 

“Kazuo is neither a shareholder nor a director of TRA,” Fujimoto said.“It is possible to independently verify this information on the internet at the Hong Kong governmental registry website where this information was officially registered and made publicly available.” 

Kazuo was also ousted from Universal’s board in 2017, as a result of the controversy. 

All in the Okada family
Fujimoto said the two TRA directors were Ms. Takako Okada and Mr. Kenshi Asano, Universal’s chief finance officer. 

“Not only did Kazuo misrepresent his current status at TRA by filing with the Supreme Court of the Philippines a copy of a fudged old 2016 version of the HK Registry, he falsely claimed tohave used the shares of TRLEI owned by TRA to hold a TRLEI shareholders meeting where he was wrongly claimed to have formed a new board of directors.” 

Okada Manila is worth US$3.3 billion, and that kind of estimate probably generated interest among businessmen from Manila to Hong Kong, to Japan, and the rest of the big-time gambling world. 

Inside the casino
When Kazuo regained control of Okada Manila on the basis of the high court’s status quo ante order in May, his people took the hotel-casino operations by force, according to Tomohiro’s camp in Manila. Kazuo’s team denied the charge. 

But Tomohiro’s lawyers lodged a series of complaints with the Department of Justice seeking redress, complete with footage of the violent takeover, naming in the lawsuit Okada, though he was not there, Cojuangco, their business partner Dindo Espeleta and the private security company that supposedly helped enforce the takeover.  Cojuangco denied the charge. 

But the “videos, many of which have become viral on social media, photos and medico-legalreports speak for themselves,” Elamparo said. “In legal parlance, res ipsa loquitur (the thing speaks for itself). Videos and photos cannot lie.” 

Among those who initiated complaints against the Kazuo camp, “because they were there and they were hurt” by the violent takeover, was Tomohiro camp’s independent director James Lorenzana, a former director of Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) who was accused of graft in 2010. 

Battle of connections
The graft charges against Lorenzana in SBMA were dismissed in March 2015. But the controversy seems to continue to hound him even in Okada Manila, even within the Tomohiro camp, which stemmed from the company’s failure to prevent the Kazuo takeover. 

It was widely believed that Kazuo’s camp got the ear of a senior official of the Duterte administration, who helped them facilitate getting the status quo order.  

Tomohiro’s camp is banking on Lorenzana’s connections in the new administration for them to reach and articulate their side. Lorenzana is supposedly close to a senior House member, a fraternity brother way back in their college days at the University of the Philippines.

Illegal board?
On August 9, Cojuangco, now Okada Manila’s president, and the board denied request of the casino hotel’s parent company to inspect the company books and corporate documents.He said the board did not recognize the authority of a law firm to represent Tiger Resort and exercise its rights, if any, in the Philippines.

Elamparo, a Divina law partner, said Cojuangco’s board was “illegal” because it lacked the blessings of the Japan-based parent company. 
Both camps are eagerly waiting for the high court to settle all that. Also waiting for the court’s Decision are the gambling world and the Okada household. Especially the Okada household! 

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