Las Vegas Sands pays US$9m to settle US claims over China frontman payments

The settlement ends an investigation prompted by allegations from a former head of Sands' casinos in Macau that Mr Adelson (pictured) pressured him to use illegal means to gain influence over officials there.
The settlement ends an investigation prompted by allegations from a former head of Sands' casinos in Macau that Mr Adelson (pictured) pressured him to use illegal means to gain influence over officials there. PHOTO: THE BUSINESS TIMES

LAS VEGAS (BLOOMBERG) - Las Vegas Sands Corp, the casino operator run by billionaire Sheldon Adelson, will pay US$9 million (S$12.2 million) to settle a US regulator's claims that it failed to properly document payments to a consultant facilitating business activities in China and Macau.

The company, which owns Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, was frequently unable to account for more than US$62 million in payments through a series of transactions from 2006 through at least 2011, the US Securities and Exchange Commission said in a complaint on Thursday (April 7). The payments continued even after senior Las Vegas Sands officials became aware that the company couldn't account for US$700,000 in transfers, the SEC said.

The settlement ends an investigation prompted by allegations from a former head of Sands' casinos in Macau that Mr Adelson pressured him to use illegal means to gain influence over officials in the Chinese gambling enclave. Mr Adelson has denied the assertions of Steven Jacobs, who sued the company after he was fired in 2010 as chief executive officer of Sands China Ltd.

Mr Jacobs said he was fired because he wouldn't give in to the "illegal demands" of Mr Adelson, who is chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands. He said Mr Adelson directed him to secretly investigate Macau government officials and use "improper leverage" against them. The case is scheduled to go trial in June.

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act prohibits companies with US operations and their intermediaries from making improper payments to foreign officials to win or retain business. Among Mr Jacobs's claims is that he had to rehire a Macau lawyer who sought a US$300 million payment for Chinese officials to help resolve some of Sands' conflicts.

In 2013, Sands paid US$47.4 million to end a federal investigation into the company's failure to report suspicious deposits by a high-stakes gambler in Las Vegas.

Sands gets the bulk of its revenue from Macau, the world's largest gambling market. Michael Leven, the former president and chief operating officer of Sands, testified last year in a court hearing that Mr Adelson had been concerned that Macau officials were giving him less favorable treatment than locally owned competitors in the former Portuguese colony.