MANILA — A Department of Justice panel of prosecutors has indicted Japanese gaming tycoon Kazuo Okada and three others for grave coercion over their May 31 takeover of casino resort hotel Okada Manila.
In a resolution dated August 25 but only made public on Monday, the panel recommended the filing of a grave coercion charge in court against Okada and his business associates Antonio “Tonyboy” Cojuangco, Dindo Espeleta and Florentino “Binky” Herrera III for “taking the law into their hands.”
Cojuangco, Espeleta and Herrera were present during the May 31 takeover, accompanied by around 50 security officers, law enforcers and sheriff.
They were supposedly implementing the status quo ante order (SQAO) issued by the Supreme Court which restored the situation at Tiger Resort Leisure & Entertainment, Inc. (TRLEI), the company that runs Okada Manila, prior to Okada’s removal in 2017 due to allegations of corruption and mismanagement.
They were accused of employing brute force and intimidation to oust the members of the TRLEI board.
An SQAO maintains the “last, actual, peaceable and uncontested state of things that preceded the controversy.”
The DOJ panel noted Okada’s standing as shareholder and board member of TRLEI has yet to be resolved by the high court and the SQAO did not contain any authority for him to issue shares of stocks and create his own board.
It concluded that TRLEI board members Jaime Lorenzana, Hajime Tokuda and Michiake Satate should not have been prevented from performing their obligations and duties as board members and corporate officers, and were “unjustly restrained” when they were “forcibly evicted” from the premises.
Lorenzana was manhandled by a security personnel, Tokuda was lifted from his chair and brought out of the office, while Satate was also escorted out of the office.
Cojuangco’s team also cut off the electricity and air-conditioning unit, while the three board members were meeting with two others at Okada Manila’s Golden Boardroom.
“The violent removal of the complainants would not have happened were it not for the instructions of respondents Cojuangco, Espeleta, and Herrera III, who were personally present at Okada Manila, and in fact, were conducting their meeting at the boardroom in the HROO (Hotel and Retail Operations Office) when the violent eviction of the complainants from the premises happened," the resolution read.
"There is a clear presence of conspiracy as the successful concerted actions of the respondents in the removal of the complainants have a common motive and reason, which is to install their own board of directors, and which is not within the purview of the SQAO,” it added.
“Further, the fact that respondents Cojuangco, Espeleta and Herrera arrived at Okada Manila with a large number of security officers, law enforcers and a sheriff, caused complainants to be greatly intimidated and unable to resist orders from the respondents. The overpowering number of security and law enforcers has made complainants’ resistance futile. This show of force is equivalent to such intimidation that equates to coercion."
Although he was not present during the takeover, Okada was included by DOJ prosecutors in the indictment because “the incident happened with his prior knowledge, assent or imprimatur.”
“Being the sole petitioner before the Supreme Court and for whose favor the takeover was done in the guise of enforcing the SQAO, respondent Kazuo [Okada] certainly cannot feign ignorance of the crime; thus, he is liable for grave coercion,” the resolution said.
Okada had asked the Supreme Court to issue an order granting him physical access to the office of the chairman and CEO as well as to the corporate offices, files, records, documents and other assets of TRLEI.
The high court has yet to resolve his plea.
“They could not wait for the Supreme Court to first rule and issue a resolution thereon. Instead, they precipitously went ahead with their unlawful plan to take control and possession of Okada Manila in the guise of implementing the SQAO, which contains no specifications on what respondents can only do by virtue thereof," the resolution said.
"Needlessly, respondents illegally magnified the simple and general directive of the Supreme Court to maintain order in the business affairs and operations of Okada Manila."
The ousted board members of TRLEI, who are nominees and representatives of Tiger Resort Asia Limited (TRAL), were eventually able to regain their seat in the board after the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR), backed by a Department of Justice legal opinion, ordered their reinstatement while recognizing Okada as CEO.
The DOJ panel, composed of prosecution attorney Luis Miguel Flores, assistant state prosecutor Moises Acayan and senior assistant state prosecutor Tofel Austria, however, dismissed the grave coercion raps against Tetsuya Yokota and Hiroshi Kawamura who were not alleged to be present during the takeover nor accused of any other act.
The complaint for slight physical injuries and unjust vexation were also junked because the complainants were not able to identify who were responsible for the injuries they sustained and those behind the cutting off of the electricity and air-conditioning.
Meanwhile, there was no sufficient evidence for the direct assault rap, the panel said.
The panel also ruled that the removal of Tokuda from the premises and the temporary restraint on his liberty did not amount to kidnapping.