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Best of John L Smith

Gaming Guru

John L Smith
 

Vickers Reports could spell trouble for Sheldon Adelson

15 June 2015

Lately it seems everyone wants to get their hands on the Vickers Reports.

Haven’t heard of them?

They’re not on any best-seller list. In fact, they’re not even in circulation.

But this past week Guardian News & Media, publisher of The Guardian newspaper, and an upstart nonprofit watchdog group with a lofty title, the Campaign for Accountability, made a formal request to District Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez to unseal the Vickers Reports, which they believe could reveal business links between Las Vegas Sands Corp. and two high-ranking members of Chinese triads. At least for now, the reports remain confidential as part of the massive document trove associated with the wrongful termination case pitting former Sands China Limited CEO Steven Jacobs against former employer Las Vegas Sands Corp. and its CEO and chairman, Sheldon Adelson.

The potential bombshell material is made even more volatile due to Adelson’s role as a Republican Party megadonor. Adelson and his wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson, spent more than $100 million in the 2012 presidential and congressional election campaigns. They appear prepared to go even bigger as the 2016 presidential campaign comes into focus.

As if learning about potential business ties between Chinese organized crime characters and Las Vegas Sands — a Nevada gaming licensee — weren’t alarming enough, the inquiring organizations are raising an even more troubling question: whether criminal cash from Adelson’s Macau casino empire was transformed into campaign contributions in the United States.

First, about those reports.

They were authored on behalf of Sands China Ltd. by a highly respected private investigator and former Royal Hong Kong Police Force senior superintendent who developed an undeniable expertise on triad societies and other organized crime activities during his 18-year tenure. When it comes to understanding Macau casinos, triad clans and Chinese politics, Vickers is hard to beat.

The reports covered three areas, according to a document filed in the Jacobs case: “certain Macau government officials,” a “background investigation on Cheung Chi Tai” and “a due diligence investigation of Heung Wah Keung.”

The Vickers Reports promise to be intriguing and informative, but it’s not as if we haven’t already learned plenty of brow-raising information about Cheung and Heung.

Cheung, considered a high-rolling hoodlum by law enforcement, was exposed as a key investor in a company that operated VIP junkets to Sands Macao and other casinos. The connection already has caused plenty of embarrassment to Adelson and his top executive, Rob Goldstein.

During a hearing last month to address the jurisdiction issue in the wrongful termination suit, under examination from Jacobs co-counsel James Pisanelli, Adelson refused to answer questions about the reputed Chinese criminal figure.

“Your honor, Mr. Pisanelli is making erroneous — intentional but erroneous — statements that we were doing business with Cheung Chi Tai,” the prickly casino king said. “We were not doing business with Cheung Chi Tai, therefore the question is completely inappropriate.”

Fair enough.

But when it came time for Goldstein to testify under examination from Jacobs co-counsel Todd Bice, Adelson’s trusted associated acknowledged the obvious: a business relationship with Cheung had existed. Cheung has been named as a leader of the Wo Hop To Triad society.

Following a 2010 Reuters news report that exposed the association, Goldstein said, “I pushed strongly for termination of the relationship with Cheung. We didn’t want him as a customer in any of our buildings or running junkets.”

Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” had nothing on Adelson and Goldstein’s “Cheung’s on First?”

While Adelson dissembled and stonewalled, Goldstein appeared to appreciate the danger of having a person of notorious repute operating so close to the action, acknowledging triads were akin to “a mafia criminal group.”

Charles Heung, meanwhile, hasn’t denied that members of his family have played high-ranking roles in the Sun Yee On triad, but he has never been convicted of a criminal association. On the contrary, and despite what a 1992 U.S. Senate subcommittee report asserts, he argues that he’s made his fortune in the action movie business, first as a star and eventually as producer of blockbusters featuring Jet Li and Chow Yun-fat. He’s also a casino high roller.

In January 2009, Heung made a $100,000 credit transfer from The Venetian Rsort-Hotel-Casino on the Strip to Sands Macao, Reuters reported in 2012. The transfer held the potential of generating an inquiry from Nevada gaming regulators, who have made themselves scarce throughout much of the controversial Macau casino boom involving some of the state’s most powerful licensees.

With so much troubling information already public in the Jacobs case, it’s always possible that unsealing the investigative documents might prove anticlimactic.

But after watching Sands attorneys froth and claw and obfuscate when it comes to producing documents, I’m convinced the Vickers Reports will make excellent summer reading.