HONG KONG (Reuters) - Japanese billionaire Kazuo Okada, embroiled in a legal fight with former partner Steve Wynn, the chairman of casino operator Wynn Resorts, used a video on Tuesday to deny claims by the Las Vegas mogul that he was “unsuitable” to be a company director.
Dressed in a black pinstripe suit and pale pink shirt, Okada, 69, who usually shies away from the media glare, spoke for 15 minutes in Japanese in a clip shown on the website of his firm Universal Entertainment, saying Universal has never done anything improper to obtain government favors.
Wynn, known for his flamboyant showman persona, has claimed that Okada, his former largest shareholder who helped bankroll his casino empire over a decade ago, is unsuitable to continue as a board member of his $12 billion firm, forcibly redeeming Okada’s 20 percent stake in February.
Okada, who made his fortune in the pachinko pinball industry, is developing a $2 billion casino resort in the Philippines independent of Wynn, who has accused him of bribing officials there in order to obtain a license.
“We have never done anything improper for the purpose of receiving future governmental benefits. Specifically I would like to note we have not received a final gaming license, and ultimately a license will be granted automatically upon our completing construction,” Okada said through a translator, speaking publically about his side of the bitter legal tussle for the first time since it erupted in January.
Okada, an engineer who started his career by repairing jukeboxes, filed a counterclaim in a U.S. federal court on Monday over his shares, bought by Wynn at a 30 percent discount that Okada called “outrageous”.
He is seeking damages and a permanent injunction to reverse the share redemption, while Wynn is claiming Okada made improper payments to foreign gaming regulators and breached fiduciary duties.
The two tycoons, known in industry circles as having strong personalities and big egos, are both being investigated by U.S. regulators, and both deny any wrongdoing. Regulators in Macau and the Philippines are also conducting their own internal inquiries.
The two men’s 12-year partnership appeared to sour suddenly at the beginning of January when Okada filed a writ asking to see financial documents relating to a $135 million company donation to the University of Macau, though the multiple court filings by the pair suggest the falling out was more deep-rooted.
Okada said: “His attitude changed because I became suspicious regarding the purpose and reason for the large donation made to the University of Macau, and I opposed it. Since then, Steve Wynn started trying to remove me.”
Wynn had previously referred to Okada as his best friend, and said in 2008 that “I love Kazuo Okada as much as any man that I’ve ever met in my life.”
Though the mudslinging is unfolding in Las Vegas courtrooms the focus is on operations in the Philippines, which is developing a new entertainment and casino district, and on Macau, a former Portuguese colony neighboring Hong Kong that is the only place in China in which casino gambling is allowed, helping it rake in revenues five times larger than Las Vegas.
Okada said that while Wynn’s compliance committee and an investigative report that Wynn commissioned from former FBI director Louis Freeh, have pointed the finger at Okada’s Philippines project, they have not focused on Wynn’s own operations in Macau.
“This is a transparent attempt by Steve Wynn and others not only to silence me as director and remove the company’s largest shareholder but to enrich themselves in the process,” he said, adding that he was never given the chance to explain his position to the board before the share redemption and his dismissal from the board of the Wynn Macau unit.
Wynn Resorts said on Tuesday that Okada’s response failed to contain any meaningful denial of the investigative report.
“Wynn Resorts looks forward to having Mr. Okada’s actions and the company’s response presented to and adjudicated in court,” it said in an email to Reuters.
A person close to Okada said the redemption case was likely to play out over the next few months and that Okada would not be satisfied until there was full restoration of his shares as well as damages and an apology.
Reporting by Farah Master; Editing by Michael Watson and Mark Potter