Philippines' Aquino orders casino graft probe

MANILA - Philippine President Benigno Aquino said Friday he had ordered an investigation into allegations that the country's gaming regulator took illegal gifts from a Japanese casino tycoon.

Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) chairman Cristino Naguiat will appear before a cabinet-level committee and be punished if found guilty of wrongdoing, Aquino said.

"There is a formal process where he will be asked to explain himself with regards to the specific accusations," Aquino told reporters.

"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."

Aquino did not elaborate on the possible sanctions.

The probe came after US-based Wynn Resorts alleged that estranged business partner Kazuo Okada had lavished more than $110,000 on Naguiat and other Philippine officials to ensure his 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 Naguiat, his wife, three children, a nanny and other Pagcor officials accepted $50,000 in cash, gifts and free hotel rooms from Okada during a ficve-day stay at Wynn's Macau resort in 2010.

Naguiat, appointed by Aquino just a few months earlier to Pagcor's top post with a mandate to eradicate graft in the regulator, stayed at the resort's most expensive room - which would cost guests $6,000 a night, the suit alleged.

It also accused Naguiat of requesting and receiving a Chanel designer bag worth more than $1,850 for his wife.

Naguiat has confirmed 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.

The announcement by Aquino of the probe came after his spokesman, 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.

Okada's Universal Entertainment was awarded a license in 2008 to build a gaming resort on the shores of Manila Bay featuring 2,000 guest rooms and three hotels.

Pagcor officials have said the controversy will not affect the project, which is due to be completed in 2014.