Billionaire and Republican donor Sheldon Adelson owns the Las Vegas Sands… (Kin Cheung, Associated…)
The Las Vegas casino company headed by high-profile Republican donor and billionaire Sheldon Adelson said it probably violated a federal law that prohibits the bribery of foreign government officials.
Las Vegas Sands Corp. said its auditors found that "there were likely violations" of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bars Americans from bribing foreign officials to secure an advantage. The disclosure was made in a filing Friday with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The apparent violations were related to business deals in China headed by company officials no longer with the firm, according to the Wall Street Journal, which quoted an unnamed source familiar with the matter.
Las Vegas Sands operates the Venetian and Palazzo in Las Vegas as well as the largest casino in Macao. The coastal enclave of 10 square miles, which was transferred from Portuguese to Chinese control in 1999, is the fastest-growing casino market in the world and opened up gambling concessions to foreign companies more than a decade ago.
Las Vegas Sands said in its filing Friday that it began an internal investigation on the matter after it received a subpoena two years ago from the SEC ordering it to provide documents relating to its compliance with the foreign anti-bribery law. It has also been under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The company said the federal inquiries might have come as a result of a lawsuit filed in 2010 by the former chief executive of Sands China Ltd., the company's Asian subsidiary. The suit by Steven C. Jacobs in Clark County District Court alleged breach of contract and wrongful termination. In 2011, Jacobs added Adelson as a defendant and alleged defamation.
Adelson's company said it did not expect the findings to materially affect its finances or force it to restate financial results. Las Vegas Sands said it had in recent years improved record-keeping and internal-controls practices.
Adelson, 79, was feared and assiduously courted by top Republican operatives throughout the 2012 presidential race. To the frustration of Mitt Romney's advisors, he and his family members almost single-handedly kept the campaign of Newt Gingrich afloat during the primaries — pouring $21.5 million into the pro-Gingrich organization Winning Our Future.
But Romney's efforts to woo Adelson ultimately paid off. After Romney met with the casino magnate privately in Nevada to seek his help after Gingrich dropped out, Adelson became a generous backer of the pro-Romney "super PAC" known as Restore Our Future.
During Romney's foreign trip in late July, Adelson and his wife were given prime seating at Romney's major speech in Jerusalem overlooking the Old City walls. After his remarks, Romney made his way through the crowd to talk to Adelson and other top donors — greeting the casino magnate with a half-handshake, half-hug.
Signifying his importance to the campaign, Adelson was seated next to Romney the next morning at a fundraiser, where Romney spoke to top donors around a U-shaped conference table at the King David Hotel.
As super PAC donors in 2012, Adelson and his wife, Miriam, were in a realm of their own. The Adelsons donated nearly $92.8 million to outside spending groups, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. No one else even came close. (Texas billionaire Harold Simmons and his wife, Annette, were a distant second — donating $26.8 million to independent committees.)
Adelson gave $23 million to American Crossroads, the group founded by former White House political advisor Karl Rove, over the 2012 campaign cycle; and $30 million to the pro-Romney Restore Our Future over the final four months before the election. He has also given generously to causes allied with Israel — one reason why he supported Gingrich, who once described the survival of Israel as Adelson's "passion in life."
Adelson's wealth was estimated by Forbes magazine in September at $20.5 billion, making him the 12th-richest American.
The son of a Boston cab driver, Adelson began his path to wealth through the storied high-tech convention Comdex, which he later sold to Japanese investors in 1995. He pioneered development of Las Vegas as a convention town, refashioning the Sands as a convention center and eventually converting it into the Venetian.
Adelson's ties to China came under scrutiny in recent years.
Richard Suen, described as a middleman who arranged meetings between Adelson and top Chinese officials, sued the casino mogul for millions of dollars in a payment dispute.
In 2008, Suen testified in the suit that Adelson landed the Chinese government's support for a Macao gaming franchise in 2001 after Adelson relayed assurances from a top Republican that a congressional effort opposing Beijing's 2008 Olympic bid "would never see the light of day."
Suen won a multimillion-dollar judgment that was overturned in 2010 by the Nevada Supreme Court, which ordered a new trial.
Las Vegas Sands said in its SEC filing that it would defend itself vigorously against claims made by Suen and Jacobs.
Last month, Adelson sued a Hong Kong-based Wall Street Journal reporter for libel for a story in December that described him as "foul-mouthed."