DOJ Recommends Charges Vs. Tonyboy Cojuangco, Kazuo Okada for Takeover of Okada Manila

The latest in the drama surrounding Okada Manila.
IMAGE PJ CAÑA

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is recommending the filing of grave coercion charges against the group that stormed Okada Manila and forcibly took over the property last May 31. 

The DOJ said it found probable cause to indict the so-called “Kazuo Group” led by Kazuo Okada, Antonio “Tonyboy” Cojuangco Jr., Dindo Espeleta, and Florentino “Binky” Herrera III.

The DOJ acted on five several complaints against the defendants filed by officers of Tiger Resort Leisure and Entertainment Inc. (TRLEI), which had been running the property since Okada’s ouster from the company’s board in 2017. 

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Led by Cojuangco, Espeleta, and Herrera, a group of about 50 private guards and officers from the Parañaque City Police Department entered Okada Manila intending to reclaim the property from TRLEI based on a Status Quo Ante Order (SQAO) issued by the Supreme Court. The SQAO essentially ordered TRLEI to “MAINTAIN THE STATUS QUO prevailing prior to petitioner’s removal as stockholder, director, chairman and CEO of Tiger Resort Leisure and Entertainment, Inc. (TRLEI) in 2017.”

But TRLEI argued that the SC order did not contain a provision that explicitly allowed for the Kazuo Group to take over the property.

"[T]hey exceeded and/or went beyond what the SQAO has simply allowed," the DOJ panel found. “Ineluctably, respondents Kazuo, Cojuangco, Espeleta and Herrera are deemed to have taken the law into their hands.  [T]hey precipitously went ahead of 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.”

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According to the DOJ, the Kazuo Group “illegally magnified the simple and general directive of the Supreme Court to maintain order in the business affairs and operations of Okada Manila.”

Kazuo Okada was found to have been equally liable despite not being physically present during the takeover, “since it appears that the incident happened with his prior knowledge, assent, or imprimatur,” according to the DOJ resolution.

“We are grateful that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has started the ball rolling in advancing justice for the victims of the brutal takeover in May,” TRLEI CFO, Treasurer, and Board Member Hans Van Der Sande, said. “We will continue to work with our lawyers and exhaust all legal means to win this case against the Kazuo Group.”

The Kazuo group had yet to issue a statement on the latest DOJ order. 

In September, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR) ordered the Kazuo Group to vacate the premises of Okada Manila, which effectively handed control back of the multi-billion-peso property to the officials of the parent company, TRLEI and its parent Tiger Resort Asia Ltd. (TRAL). 

A minor scuffle occurred when officials from PAGCOR and the Philippine National Police tried to serve the PAGCOR order and were initially barred from entering the premises, although TRLEI executives said the commotion was brief and the transition was “generally peaceful.”

Technically, Kazuo Okada is still part of the Okada board as TRLEI is duty-bound to honor the SQAO.

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Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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