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LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman Sheldon Adelson said Thursday he didn't believe a Hong Kong businessman could help his casino company win a gaming concession in Macau because, at the time, there wasn't any opportunity for casino expansion in the Chinese special administrative region.
Still, Adelson said, he and Las Vegas Sands President Bill Weidner traveled to Beijing in 2001 to meet with Chinese government officials under the belief "that you never leave any stone unturned."
Adelson, 74, testified Thursday in Clark County District Court on the first day of testimony in a civil trial to determine whether Richard Suen and Round Square Co. helped Las Vegas Sands win a Macau gambling license in 2002 and are owed millions of dollars.
Adelson almost didn't reach the witness stand in Judge Michelle Leavitt's courtroom.
Attorneys for Suen asked the judge for a mistrial following the opening statement of Las Vegas Sands attorney Rusty Hardin. Attorney James Pisanelli said Hardin "poisoned the jury" by presenting prejudicial information that was not supposed to be brought into evidence.
Pisanelli asked that the eight-person jury be dismissed and a new panel chosen.
Leavitt decided against a mistrial, but said she would inform the jurors in jury instructions that comments during opening statements should not be construed as evidence.
Hardin's opening remarks did contain one bombshell.
During 2001, he told jurors, Adelson, the world's 12th richest person according to Forbes, suffered from a rare neurological disorder that caused him to have severe pain down his side.
Hardin said Adelson was on painkillers for much of the year and that his senior management handled day-to-day affairs of the company.
"He was not totally with it a lot of the time," Hardin said. "Sometimes he was taking up to 25 pain pills a day."
Hardin said the pain medication was why Adelson and Weidner gave conflicting comments about Suen in their depositions.
Adelson took the witness stand at 4:45 p.m. and was questioned by Suen attorney John O'Malley for an hour and 15 minutes.
Adelson is scheduled to return at 8:30 this morning. He is scheduled to leave the country Saturday to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Passover.
Adelson said he met with Suen initially in 2000 at the request of his brother, Leonard Adelson, a business associate of Suen. Sheldon Adelson said his knowledge of Macau and the potential of operating a casino there was virtually nonexistent at the time.
Adelson said he traveled to Asia to drum up high-roller business for The Venetian, which at the time was Las Vegas Sands' only hotel-casino. Adelson said his philosophy in 2000 "was not to do business where the American flag doesn't fly."
However, Adelson was persuaded to attend a meeting in Beijing in 2001 with Chinese Vice Premier Qian Qichen at the behest of Suen and under the guise of building a convention center in the Chinese capital.
Adelson said Suen told him not to mention Macau or casinos during the meeting.
"I told Richard the last thing I wanted to do was build a convention center" in Beijing, Adelson said.
During the meeting, Adelson said, the vice premier said he wanted to change the image of Macau, which at the time, had a casino monopoly operated by Hong Kong billionaire Stanley Ho.
"It was a seedy, backwater of a gambling town," Adelson said. "It was not so good. They wanted to make it better. It was prostitution infested, crime infested and triad (Chinese organized crime) infested. Nothing like that would ever happen in a state like Nevada."
Adelson also met with then Beijing Mayor Liu Qi, who asked him to "help China win the Olympics." Adelson said he called "four or five" congressmen he knew, including then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, about legislation that could hinder China's Olympic bid. Adelson said he did not ask Delay or any of the congressmen to do anything that would "go against their beliefs."
During his opening remarks, O'Malley said Adelson and Weidner made differing financial offers to settle payment with Suen after Las Vegas Sands was awarded a gaming concession in February 2002 in conjunction with Hong Kong-based Galaxy Entertainment.
Sands and Galaxy split and Sands was awarded a sub-concession.
Suen claims he was promised a $5 million success fee and 2 percent of the net profits from a Las Vegas Sands casino venture in Macau.
O'Malley told jurors then-Sands executive David Friedman would be in violation of U.S. law governing dealings with foreign governments if he paid Suen any kind of fee.
Later, Las Vegas Sands offered Suen an opportunity to oversee the procurement of products that would be used in any hotels the company built in Macau, "which could be worth up to $100 million," according to testimony.
It was disputed in court whether the job would be for work Suen did before the casino concession was awarded or for future earnings. The deal fell apart when Suen asked for a guaranteed $25 million.
Adelson reportedly told Suen in 2003, "I'm not going to pay you, so sue me."
During his opening statement, Hardin said Suen is overstating his importance in helping Las Vegas Sands obtain a Macau gaming license.
Hardin told jurors that Las Vegas Sands won the license on its own efforts and merits.
Hardin said Suen was trying to steer Las Vegas Sands into building a convention hall in Beijing, a deal that was separate from his helping gain a Chinese gambling concession.
"Mr. Suen claims he brought the idea (of a Macau casino) to Las Vegas Sands," Hardin said. "That's not the case. Mr. Adelson's team was well-aware of Macau and the possibilities."
Hardin said Weidner believed Suen should have been paid for some of his efforts and expenses while he was working with the company in 2001 and tried to negotiate a settlement. However, Hardin said Suen never presented the company with a breakdown of his time and expenses.
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