Las Vegas Sands Corp. (LVS:US), embroiled in two U.S. investigations and a court battle with the former head of its Chinese casino business, said for the first time it probably violated the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
Macau unit Sands China Ltd. fell in Hong Kong trading after billionaire Sheldon Adelson’s Sands disclosed in its annual report (LVS:US) preliminary results of an internal probe. “There were likely violations of the books and records and internal controls provisions of the FCPA,” it said.
The findings signal repercussions for Sands from U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and Department of Justice investigations of possible violations of the act, which prohibits improper business payments outside the U.S. Sands, which gets almost 60 percent of its revenue (LVS:US) from China, said it expects no material financial impact from the panel’s findings.
Ron Reese, a spokesman for Sands, declined to comment beyond the filing, made on March 1. The audit committee also found that the probable violations won’t lead to any financial restatements and don’t represent a weakness in current controls.
Sands China lost 1.2 percent, the most since Feb. 21, to close at HK$36.35 in Hong Kong. That pared Sands China’s gain this year to 7.1 percent. The benchmark Hang Seng Index fell 1.5 percent today. Las Vegas Sands dropped 2.4 percent to $50.09 at 10:12 a.m. in New York. The shares had gained 11 percent this year through March 1.
“If you look at Adelson and Sands, they’ve historically been in legal trouble for a number of things, and every time there is a short-time share-price loss it tends to bounce back up,” said Michael Ting, a Hong Kong-based gaming analyst with CIMB Securities Ltd. “We don’t think there would be any long- term negative issues on the share price.”
Sands said in an e-mailed statement dated yesterday that no violations of the anti-bribery provisions of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act have occurred.
Sands previously held that its dealings in Macau, a former Portuguese colony and the only Chinese (1928) city where casinos are legal, were above-board. In an August interview, the chief executive officer of its Asian unit, Sands China Ltd., said Sands doesn’t engage in “crimes or illegal activities.”
The company has said that a lawsuit filed by former Sands China CEO Steven Jacobs probably triggered the government probes.
Singapore and Macau’s casino regulators did not immediately respond to phone calls and e-mails from Bloomberg News seeking comment on the impact on Sands operations in their cities.
Jacobs sued Las Vegas Sands in 2010, alleging he was fired because he wouldn’t give in to the “illegal demands” of Adelson, who is chairman and CEO. Jacobs said Adelson directed him to secretly investigate Macau government officials and use “improper leverage” against them.
Adelson, 79, has an estimated net worth of $24.9 billion, making him the world’s 18th-wealthiest person, based on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
Following Jacobs’s allegations, the Justice Department and SEC opened FCPA-related investigations. The law prohibits companies with U.S. operations and their intermediaries from making improper payments to foreign officials to win or retain business.
Las Vegas Sands has denied Jacobs’s allegations and has said it’s cooperating with the investigations. Lawyers for the company have said in court filings that Jacobs was dismissed for working on unauthorized deals and violating company policy.
A Nevada judge in September sanctioned Sands for not disclosing that evidence it said couldn’t be taken out of Macau was already in the U.S.
The company didn’t elaborate on the likely FCPA violations. It said it has improved its practices with respect to books and records and internal controls.
The audit committee probe, while ongoing, is largely completed, Sands said. It said it’s cooperating with the investigations, and that it “is currently unable to determine the probability of the outcome of this matter, the extent of materiality, or the range of reasonably possible loss, if any.”
Casino revenue in Macau, the world’s largest gambling hub, rose 14 percent to $38 billion last year.
Las Vegas Sands has advanced 11 percent this year. The stock closed at $51.31, down by 0.35 percent, on March 1 in New York before the announcement.
The company in November approved a special dividend to shareholders ahead of an increase in federal taxes this year. Adelson and his wife, Miriam, who regulatory filings show own about 51 percent of the stock, stood to collect about $1.2 billion. The couple contributed at least $87 million in last year’s failed effort to elect Republican Mitt Romney as U.S. president, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based research group.
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