Billionaire Steve Wynn stepped up the feud with his former business partner Kazuo Okada on Friday by removing the Japanese tycoon from the board of his Macau casino company.
Wynn Macau's board voted to remove Mr. Okada following allegations he made improper payments to Asian gambling regulators, a violation of U.S. anti-corruption laws.
Wynn Macau said its board “resolved” to remove Mr. Okada as a non-executive director immediately because it was in the “best interests” of the company.
Mr. Okada is the biggest shareholder in Hong Kong-listed Wynn Macau's parent company, Wynn Resorts Ltd. He's fighting attempts by Wynn Resorts to forcibly buy back his 20-per-cent stake in the U.S. company.
Wynn Resorts is trying to distance itself from the 69-year-old Okada after an investigation by a former FBI director unearthed cash payments and gifts totalling $110,000 to gambling regulators, including regulators in the Philippines.
“After due consideration of the independent report, taking into account the company's high ethical standards, the board determined it was obligated to remove Mr. Okada,” a company statement said, citing “unacceptable conduct” by Mr. Okada, his employees and associates.
Mr. Okada owns his Wynn Resorts stake through his Japan-based casino game company, Universal Entertainment Corp.
Kazuma Ishioka, a spokesman for Universal, said reports of Mr. Okada's removal were “extremely regrettable.” He wouldn't comment further.
Mr. Wynn's ousting of Mr. Okada is the latest salvo in a bitter dispute between the two billionaires who are former friends and business partners.
Wynn Resorts said earlier this week that Louis Freeh's investigation uncovered more than three dozen instances over a three-year period in which Okada and his associates engaged in “improper activities for their own benefit.” The yearlong probe showed Mr. Okada repeatedly violated company conduct policies and U.S. anti-corruption laws, the company said.
Mr. Okada, who says he's invested $380-million in Wynn Resorts since 2000, plans to fight Wynn Resorts' attempt to take back his shares in return for a $1.9-billion (U.S.) note.
Mr. Freeh's report alleges that Mr. Okada, who is developing a casino resort in the Philippines, personally directed payments and gifts to Cristino Naguiat, chairman of the government-owned casino operator and regulator Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., during a visit by Naguiat and his family to Macau in Sept. 2010.
The money went to “luxury lodging, extravagant dinners, shopping,” the report says.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said Friday that Mr. Naguiat will be asked to explain his role in the controversy.