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Palace wants full probe on casino deal.

Malacanang is expecting the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate and prosecute immediately the officials behind the lease deal between the state-run Nayong Pilipino Foundation (NPF) and a casino-resort investor that President Duterte has described as 'flawed.'

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the President has ordered the Department of Justice to review the deal, which he said was awarded to Landing Resorts Philippines Development Corp. (LRPDC) without public bidding.

'We have a new ombudsman and if the President makes such decision, the ombudsman knows what to do. We expect a prompt investigation and filing of charges against them,' Roque told radio station dzRH yesterday.

Roque was referring to retired Supreme Court associate justice Samuel Martires, who took his oath as ombudsman this week.

Officials guilty of graft may be punished with lifetime imprisonment, Roque noted, adding, 'It depends on the amount. (The case) may even be upgraded to plunder.'

Last Tuesday, he announced that Duterte had dismissed the entire board of the NPF over a lease contract that he said was 'grossly disadvantageous' to the government.

He said the original lease contract was supposed to be for 70 years but was gradually shortened to 25 years.

The dismissal was announced on the same day of the groundbreaking of the gaming component of the $1.5-billion Nayon-Landing project.

The project involves the building, operating and maintaining of a resort casino on land owned by NPF at Entertainment City, Paranaque.

The casino is part of the tourism project between the NPF and the LRPDC, a subsidiary of Hong Kong's Landing International Development Ltd.

The Commission on Audit (COA) previously flagged the project, saying it did not undergo public bidding and did not have a land appraisal.

Roque said Duterte was like a 'fire-breathing dragon' when he learned about the lease deal.

'We have seen the President curse a lot of times but this time, he was like a fire-breathing dragon. He was very angry with what happened to Nayong Pilipino,' he said.

No distinction

Roque could not say whether the official who opposed the casino project would also be fired.

NPF board member Maria Fema Duterte, a relative of the President, has criticized the project, saying the government would lose more than P25 billion if the deal is implemented for 50 years.

She has filed a complaint against NPF chair Patricia Ocampo and other board members over the deal.

'What he said during the Cabinet meeting was everyone was fired. He did not make a distinction. That's how I understood it. If there are whistle-blowers and officials who exposed the problems surrounding the contract, perhaps it is understandable if they won't be fired,' Roque told radio station dzMM.

On Tuesday, Roque said the papers that would terminate the entire management and board of NPF would be issued 'in due course' by the executive secretary.

The Palace has yet to release the papers as of yesterday.

Duterte assailed the NPF board over the lease contract, saying he is against gambling.

'You don't give gambling license or franchises for 75 years,' the President said during the 117th Police Service anniversary at Camp Crame on Monday.

'If a child is born today, 75 years later he is that old, and still there will be gambling in this city. I will not allow it. I hate gambling, I do not want it,' he added.

The NPF has said that the term of the lease for the project is for 25 years and not 75 years.

Duterte reiterated that no casinos would be constructed 'outside of what was existing.' He said investors should use their money on more enticing endeavors.

Questioned

The COA questioned the validity of the controversial 9.57-hectare lease deal of the NPF board.

The COA said the contract was signed in November 2017 even if the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. at the time had yet to approve LRPDC's license to operate a casino.
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Publication:Philippines Star (Manila, Philippines)
Date:Aug 8, 2018
Words:763
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