Copyright Reuters 2013

(Copyright Reuters 2013)

Universal, Robinsons fail to reach deal on Manila casino: sources

By Features Reuters

Philippine property firm Robinsons Land Corp and Japan's Universal Entertainment Corp <6425.OS> have ended talks over a planned joint development of a $2 billion casino-resort complex in Manila without concluding a deal, said two people with direct knowledge of the matter.

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Universal, controlled by billionaire founder Kazuo Okada, had been in negotiations with Robinsons Land since late last year over what would be the Philippines' biggest casino-resort development. Those talks were extended indefinitely after the failure to close a deal by an initial target of end-January.

Robinsons Land had been in talks to acquire a majority stake in unlisted Eagle I Landholdings Inc, which owns the site for Universal's casino project, with the aim of developing the commercial, hotel and residential parts of the complex.

Universal did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Robinsons told Reuters it was reviewing its options related to the planned tie-up with Universal.

LAND OWNERSHIP

The deal with Robinsons had been viewed as a way for Universal to resolve a legal dispute over the ownership structure of Eagle I, the registered owner of a 40-hectare plot of land on Manila Bay.

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Last year, an arm of the Philippine justice department published a legal opinion indicating the structure breached the constitution because Aruze USA, a U.S. firm controlled by Okada, effectively held 64 percent of Eagle I via direct and indirect stakes, above a foreign ownership threshold of 40 percent.

The country's gaming industry regulator, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR), has said Universal needed to address the land issue before the casino would be allowed to open its doors.

Universal has said it conducted its business in the Philippines lawfully, and last week addressed the land issue in a press release aimed at refuting assertions made by a Japanese newspaper that has previously reported on the matter.

Universal said in the release it acquired the land based on the advice of a prominent Philippine law firm that "advised us that it was legal, so this should not be an obstacle to the opening of business in the Philippines."

Universal has filed a defamation suit against Reuters in Tokyo for its reporting about $40 million in payments to Rodolfo Soriano, a businessman with ties to the former head of PAGCOR, around the same time the Japanese company was granted concessions for the Manila casino in 2010.

The FBI and the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) have separately been investigating the payments as a potential bribery case.

Universal shares last traded up 1.5 percent on Wednesday at 2,076 yen, beating the broader Japanese index's <.N225> 1 percent gain. Robinsons Land shares traded 0.2 percent lower.

(Additional reporting by Farah Master; Editing by Ian Geoghegan)