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Unpaid IPI workers stage protest outside casino commission office

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WITH dozens of unpaid workers protesting outside its office in Gualo Rai, the Commonwealth Casino Commission on Wednesday questioned officials of Imperial Pacific International regarding the financial capability of the casino investor  to complete the casino-resort project in Garapan.

During the commission meeting, Glenn Bell, the leader of a group of construction workers from Italy, told the gaming commissioners that their situation is sending a bad message to the international community.

Bell said they are hoping to get paid and repatriated. Most of them, he added, have not been paid for four and a half months. Others have already left the island and paid for their own tickets because they had no other options, he said. All of them have already exhausted their savings  while relying on IPI’s promises, he added.

He said IPI is not telling them what really is going on.

In his report, Casino Commission Executive Director Andrew Yeom said,  aside from the three complaints filed with the commission against IPI, “it is unfortunate that there may be more notice of complaints to be filed in the near future.”

IPI, he said, has requested a hearing for two of the complaints — one, regarding the non-payment of vendors and the other involves IPI’s failure to maintain payroll reserve for its workers.

Imperial Pacific International construction workers from Turkey, Italy, the Philippines and Malaysia gather outside the Commonwealth Casino Commission in Gualo Rai during the  monthly commission meeting on Wednesday. Photo by Emmanuel T. Erediano

 

Glenn Bell, right, speaks on behalf of Imperial Pacific International’s Italian construction workers during the Commonwealth Casino Commission meeting on Wednesday. Photo by Emmanuel T. Erediano

Regarding IPI’s failure to pay its obligations to the CNMI government, including the community benefit fund contribution, the casino investor has yet to respond, Yeom told the commissioners.

He also reported that he has been contacted by the U.S. Department of Labor regarding complaints about delayed payroll.

This “pattern,” Yeom said, is something that USDOL is not happy about and “is now seeking ways to do something about it.”

IPI senior vice president for marketing and public affairs Tao Xing said, “IPI heard the concerns of the employees.”

IPI, he added, has been and is experiencing some challenges due to Covid-19.

Right now, he said, IPI is working with the CNMI government, the Legislature and the lottery commission in creating a “new framework” to address IPI’s financial obligations.

“It will bring sustainability and clarity, which will enable funds to be released from financial institutions to IPI. With the new funds, many issues brought up today can be addressed.  We appreciate everyone’s patience and hardship,” Xing said.

Casino Commission Chairman Edward C. Deleon Guerrero noted that some of IPI’s obligations predated the pandemic.

He said the commission is struggling to understand IPI’s real financial standing.

Right now, IPI is behind in the payment of the annual casino license fee, amounting to $3 million, which is due today, Thursday. Also due today, Deleon Guerrero added, is the $20 million annual community benefit fund contribution.

IPI also owes the Department of Public Lands $250,000 in land lease rental, he said.

“When promises and agreements are not being honored, it will be very frustrating,” he added.

IPI finance director Frances Mafnas, for her part, told the commission: “I don’t have anything to report on finance matter this morning.”

“What about the payroll?” Commissioner Ramon Dela Cruz asked.

“We are working with management on having that resolved hopefully this week,” Mafnas said.

Deleon Guerrero also raised concerns about IPI’s 2020 interim report, which does not mention IPI’s failure to meet its obligations to the CNMI government.

He asked Xing, “Do you know that in IPI’s 2020 interim report there is no reference to the fact that you have not paid the casino license fee and the community benefit fund, and it has no reference to any of the sanctions imposed by the regulatory body? It only made [a] reference to the investigation by the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.”

In its 2020 interim report, IPI stated:

“For the six months ended 30 June 2020, the Group achieved revenue of approximately HK$27 million, which is principally contributed by the casino gaming operations. Loss attributable to owners of the Company for the six months ended 30 June 2020 amounted to approximately HK$798 million, as compared with the loss attributable to owners of approximately HK$1,880 million in the corresponding period of last year. Basic and diluted loss per share were HK0.56 cents and HK0.56 cents respectively, as compared with basic and diluted loss per share of HK1.31 cent and HK1.31 cent respectively in the corresponding period of last year.”

The report added: “VIP gaming operations also include premium mass gaming operations that do not receive commissions from the Group.”

“In addition, a minor operation of the Group’s VIP customers has been sourced via a licensed junket operator since August 2016. The establishment of a licensed junket incentive allowed the Group to bring in new players, which mitigated the Group’s credit concerns. VIP rolling chip volume reached approximately HK$846 million (six months ended 30 June 2019: HK$8,336 million) for the first six months of 2020. Our VIP customers primarily consist of credit players. Geographically, most of our direct VIP patrons come from China, Hong Kong, Macau and Korea.”

The full interim report can be seen at https://www1.hkexnews.hk/listedco/listconews/sehk/2020/0929/2020092900662.pdf

Deleon Guerrero reminded the IPI official that the casino commission is mandated by law to ensure IPI’s financial stability.

“I am just so frustrated,” he said.

Commissioner Diego Songsong said the commission is “not in the position to support” the casino investor’s proposed Amendment No. 9, which would allow IPI to pay the $15.5 million 2021 casino license fee by installments, and waive half of the license fee for 2020.

Songsong said the commission is a regulatory body and cannot negotiate on behalf of IPI.

IPI has submitted the proposed amendment to the CNMI Lottery Commission chaired by Commerce Secretary Mark Rabauliman. 


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