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Okada: ‘They fooled me, I’ve been too kind to them’

by Gerry Lirio

KAZUO Okada, the 80-year-old controversial Japanese founder of the Okada hotel and gambling empire, is still in town, and he is busy facing and throwing lawsuits against his own business partners who he believed duped him.

He granted an exclusive interview with republicasia several weeks after he was arrested upon his return to Manila before dawn last October 19. 

He proudly recalled his arrest, saying he has nothing to fear. He came back to the Philippines to face the music because he has nothing to hide.

In this interview done with the help of an interpreter, Okada finally agreed to break his silence over the controversies surrounding the ownership and the founding of his empire.

And he talked for the first time about how some of his business associates allegedly duped him and how they spread lies about him, including supposedly brainwashing his son Tomohiro whom he has not seen eye-to-eye for the last nine years, partly his fault because he was busy growing his company, he said.

Feeling betrayed

Okada named his business partners Hajime Tokuda, Okada Manila director, and Jun Fujimoto, the CEO and Representative Director of Universal Entertainment Corp., which controls Tiger Resort Leisure and Entertainment, Inc., which controls Okada Manila.

They’re hijackers, he called them.

“One might say that I have been too kind to them,” he said in the interview one Saturday night.

He said Fujimoto, the mastermind behind the takeover, is the biggest benefactor of his hard work all these many years.

Bankrupt businessman?

Fujimoto was once upon-a-time bankrupt, he said, because his own company Seta “fell on hard times.” Okada supposedly bailed him out and he trusted him with a top position at his Okada company in Japan for him to bounce back.

“I paid (Fujimoto) the same amount of remuneration as me, 600 to 800 million yen,” he said.

But he didn’t realize, Okada said, that Fujimoto would oust him from the company to finally liberate himself from his financial woes.

“That is correct,” he said. “The biggest cause may be that I did not know how to trust and doubt people.”

According to Okada, Fujimoto was Universal’s  representative director until Okada Manila was completed. He was supposed to name another person to replace Fujimoto, but Fujimoto got wind of Okada’s plan.

He said Fujimoto feared that he would be deprived of his own position as UEC top honcho and that the $43.5 million fraudulent transfer of funds would come to light, and plotted for the founder’s ouster.

Fujimoto then took it upon himself to set up a special investigation committee, and through its investigation unjustly condemned Okada, and fabricated and spread false facts in the media in various countries so that Okada would never be allowed to return.

Okada showed republicasia documents that he had sued Fujimoto in Tokyo High Court. 

“I feel betrayed,” he said. “I feel I had been too generous at that time.”

Contacted for comment, Fujimoto’s representatives in Manila were in Japan but agreed to talk to republicasia in a separate interview upon their return. 

Majority no more?

In a statement sent to some government officials on July 26, Fujimoto disowned Kazuo. 

“Kazuo is neither a shareholder nor a director of TRA,” Fujimoto said in the statement. “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.” 

Okada is facing more than 10 lawsuits in Japan, Hongkong and the Philippines, the US and South Korea, some of these for allegedly misappropriating millions of dollars from his holding company, Okada Holdings, prompting Universal Entertainment Corp. of Japan to remove him as chair.

Okada said the charges against him were fabricated and were meant only to harass him and justify his ouster from the company.

Readying charges

In the Philippines, he was charged with physical injury as a result of the alleged hostile takeover of his camp of Okada Manila in May 2022. He was arrested for that based on a warrant issued by a Paranaque court.

Okada’s team of lawyers is set to file counter charges this month against people who caused his arrest. Lawyer Sigfrid Fortun leads the team, he said.

Okada said it was not he who misappropriated millions in Okada funds. It was Fujimoto, he said.

$43-million lawsuit

“Fujimoto illegally transferred US$43.5 millions of my company’s funds via Hongkong in 2012 to a Virgin Islands paper company,” he said.

“Fujimoto is currently being pursued by the Tokyo High Court as a defendant in a shareholder derivative suit for damaging my company.”

In 2018, Fujimoto filed a criminal case against Okada in the Philippines.

“This was due to false allegations that I received proper remuneration from Okada Manila, prior to (his overthrow) and the complaint was subsequently dismissed, of course,” he said.

Okada is the founding father of gaming giant Universal Entertainment Corporation, the parent company of Okada Manila. He established Okada Holdings in September 2010 as a holding company with shares to be held only by his family members on his behalf.

Who owns Okada Manila?

Okada Manila is owned by Tiger Resort Leisure and Entertainment, Inc., 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.

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. The suit set the stage for his ouster.

All in the family

Fujimoto’s camp 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. 

Okada has no love lost for his second wife. He had sought a divorce.

Okada and his son and Fujimoto have since been at odds over who is the real owner of Okada Manila for the last five years, derailing operations and original expansion plans, all because of the animosity between them.

“This is nothing but a despicable lawsuit,” Okada said. “It was designed to prevent me from entering the Philippines by Fujimoto, who feared that I would visit the Philippines and interact intimately with the Filipino people.”

That is why, despite his age and arrest order, Okada dared to go back to the Philippines, he said.

“What frustrates me most of all is that Fujimoto’s scheme has deprived me of time I could have spent on Okada Manila. He also spent huge amounts of company funds to defame me and prevent my revival,” he said.

Prime property

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.

“(If I) had been able to spend my time and company funds on Okada Manila and Okada Manila’s customers, we would have been closer to completing a great casino resort.

“My ambition and drive to contribute to the Philippines has not diminished at all. If we can end this barren battle with the hijackers with a victory, I will devote the rest of my life to the realization of an even better casino resort,” he said.

Father and son

In August, some lawyers observed that 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 Okada said he has not talked to his son for about nine years. The last time, he said, his son was too young to get involved in a very complicated gambling business. With his former wife? No plan.

By his lonesome

He would stay in the Philippines until the legal processes shall have been over. He wants to stay in the country because he feels safe here. He would stay until he has taken back everything he lost.

“Building an empire isn’t a walk in the park, “he said, “especially in a heavily regulated industry like gaming and gambling. In the process of obtaining a gaming or casino license alone, be it in the Philippines or in Nevada, USA, jurisdictions can be difficult, as there are many legal regulations and requirements that must be met.”

He did it all, he said.

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