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Las Vegas tycoon Sheldon Adelson to face graft accusations in US court
The owner of Sands casino fails in his attempt to have allegations of links to Chinese organised crime aired in Macau
A judge in Las Vegas has ruled that a lawsuit involving accusations of graft and organised crime ties to casinos owned by the multibillionaire and Republican party funder, Sheldon Adelson, will be heard in the US.
The decision raises the prospect of Adelson facing difficult questions about his business practices following allegations by a former chief executive of his highly profitable casinos in the Chinese enclave of Macau that a well-known triad crime figure was used to bring in high-rolling gamblers and of influence peddling with Chinese officials.
The case potentially has implications for Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands casinos because evidence of ties to criminal organisations could cost them their gaming licences.
It could also have a bearing on the 81-year-old billionaire’s considerable political influence. He is estimated to have spent $150m in a failed bid to secure a Republican victory over Barack Obama in the last presidential election and is being vigorously courted by Republican candidates in the next race.
Friday’s ruling follows a court battle earlier this month over jurisdiction in a wrongful dismissal lawsuit by the former chief executive of the Macau casinos, Steven Jacobs. He alleges that he was fired in part for blocking hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments to a Macau legislator and lawyer because they may breach US anti-bribery laws. Jacobs also alleges Adelson opposed his attempts to break links to the triads.
Confronted with these claims in court, Adelson accused Jacobs of being “delusional” and claimed he was dismissed for incompetence.
Adelson and Las Vegas Sands wanted the lawsuit, which has been dragging through the courts since 2010, heard in Macau on the grounds that the casino operation there is independent of the Nevada-based parent company. But after hearings in which Jacobs’ lawyers portrayed the multibillionaire as very hands on in oversight of his Macau casinos from Las Vegas, Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez ruled that the full case could be heard in the Nevada.
“This matter has been pending in Nevada courts for almost five years,” Gonzalez said. “Judicial economy would be served by continuing this litigation in Nevada.”
Lawyers said that if the case had been heard in Macau, it was more likely the courts there would limit revelations that would embarrass the casino industry which is the territory’s financial mainstay.
Las Vegas Sands is expected to appeal Gonzalez’s ruling. But Adelson now faces the prospect of a close examination of his relationship with a Macao lawyer and legislator, Leonel Alves. Adelson authorised $700,000 in legal fees to Alves which the company’s inhouse lawyers warned was far in excess of normal rates and could violate US law because Alves could be using his position as a legislator to influence officials in Macau and Beijing.
After Jacobs ended the contract with Alves, Adelson intervened to have him taken back on.
Adelson is also likely to face difficult questions about his Macau casino’s ties to Cheung Chi Tai, a Hong Kong-born leader of the Wo Hop To triad.
Adelson told the court that “we had no direct relationship with Cheung Chi Tai”. But company documents show Cheung’s name on contracts involving “junket reps” who bring high rolling gamblers to the Macau casinos from China and lend them money to play.
In the earlier hearing, Robert Goldstein, Las Vegas Sands’ former head of global gambling operations and now Adelson’s No 2, told the court that the company was “doing business” with Cheung but had stopped after news reports about his criminal activities.
Jacobs has said in court submissions that Adelson was well aware of Cheung’s ties to organised crime.
Adelson is also likely to face difficult questions about his denial that his company had links to a senior Chinese official, Ng Lap Seng, who was described in court as “a courier” for Sands Macau and a link man to the Chinese government.
Ng is a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Committee, a political advisory body in China dominated by the Communist party.
Adelson’s four days on the witness stand during the jurisdiction hearing were marked by combative answers and testimony that contradicted his own executives. He accused Jacobs of “squealing like a pig to the government” with the allegations.