Where the Wheel Stops, Nobody Knows

Adelson to testify Fri. over charges he didn't pay Israeli businessman due compensation for Macau casino.

On Friday, businessman Sheldon Adelson, considered the richest Jew in the world, will take the stand in the Tel Aviv Labor Court before Judge Ilan Itach. He will be asked to give evidence in a suit against him by Moshe Hananel, a businessman and his former representative in Israel. Hananel is demanding that Adelson and Interface Partners International (which he owns) pay him what he was promised in his contract plus commission from Adelson's business at the Venetian, his newest casino in Macau, China.

Hananel, who is being represented by Dudi Peretz and Adi Figel, claims in the suit submitted in 2002 that he was the first person to tell Adelson about the business possibilities of setting up a casino in Macau; that he provided background and research materials; and urged him to go there in August 1999 to have a first-hand look at the business opportunities. Macau, a former Portuguese colony, was handed over to China in late 1999 together with Hong Kong.

Adelson, according to Hananel's suit, returned from Macau and said "because of his age and his readiness to invest only in places where the American or the Israeli flag flies, he had no intention of realizing the initiative." Hananel adds in the suit that he "assumed that Adelson had rejected the initiative," but it transpired, Adelson returned to Macau in March 2000 and shortly thereafter fired him.

Adelson, represented by Dori Klagsbald and Amir Shraga, denies the charges. No money, he says, is due to Hananel, and he describes the suit "a false claim whose only purpose is to exert invalid pressure."

Adelson submitted an affadavit that "the process for determining who will get the franchisees operating the gaming houses in Macau began more than a year and a half after Hanael's dismissal, and Hananel had no connection of any kind with it." Adelson counter-sued in the U.S. courts, including a libel suit.

Capital and government

Besides Moshe Hananel's suit, there are another four against Adelson for hundreds of millions of dollars that were submitted to American courts about the concession granted to companies he owns for the operation of a hotel and casino in Macau. The suits were filed a few years ago by Chinese and American businessmen and by a New York investment house and a Taiwan bank. All parties claim Adelson promised to compensate them for assistance they had given him to gain the Macau franchise. Adelson, his assistants and companies deny the claims.

On the face of it, these are complicated civil conflicts over money. But this is also the story of the friction between the gaming industry, political power and international intrigues. From the documents and the court testimony, details can be gleaned about Adelson's Israeli bodyguard and meetings he held with big-time Chinese gamblers to persuade them to play at his Las Vegas casino. Some of the affidavits and testimony given in the U.S. serve as appendices to Hananel's suit in Israel.

In one of these appendices, Richard Suen, a Chinese businessman close to Macau's regional administration, claims that Adelson used his connections with American politicians to get the franchise he was granted by the Chinese government. Suen and his lawyers argue that the Chinese government was afraid then of a resolution put forward by U.S. Congressmen who were demanding human rights violations in China be condemned and called on the International Olympic Committee not to choose Beijing as the host city for the 2008 Olympics. In the suit being heard in a Nevada court, Suen and a Hong Kong company, Round Square, which he co-owns, claim they were promised $5 million and 2 percent of the net earnings from Adelson's Venetian casino in Macau. The defendants are Adelson and Las Vegas Sands Incorporated, which he owns, and the general manager of the company, Richard Weidner, who is slated to give evidence at the end of the week in the Tel Aviv Labor Court.

Suen claims that Adelson repeated his promise on several occasions at various meetings. He says that in the framework of one of the more significant meetings between them, held in Beijing in 2001, he succeeded with the aid of his connections in China's corridors of power to facilitate a meeting for Adelson with Qian Qichen, China's vice premier, who was responsible for Macau, and with the mayor of Beijing, who was chair of the organizing committee that was hoping to win the choice as host city.

Suen testifies that in background talks before their meetings with Adelson, the vice premier and mayor were briefed about Adelson's reputation, not only as a wealthy man, the owner of a flourishing casino in Las Vegas, but also about his Jewish origin, his ties with President George W. Bush and his influence in the Republican Party as a generous contributor.

What particularly bothered the Chinese government and the organizing committee that hoped to host the Olympic games was a proposal brought before Congress by the Jewish Democrat, Rep. Tom Lantos (who died recently) which called on the International Olympic Committee not to choose Beijing for the games because of China's human rights violations. Dozens of Congressmen from both parties signed the draft, which seemed assured of passage with a big majority. One of the signatories was Tom DeLay of Texas, who had been House majority whip since 1995 and was one of the most influential figures in American politics. He was also considered a staunch supporter of Israel and of rightwing causes. One of the donors to his election campaign, according to Congressional documents, was Sheldon Adelson.

In his testimony, Suen said that during the meeting with Adelson and the mayor of Beijing, the mayor expressed a desire that Adelson help in having Beijing chosen to host the games. Adelson agreed, he said, because he was convinced this was also the wish of the Chinese people.

The following morning, Suen says, Adelson spoke with DeLay on the telephone, asking him to hold back the proposal in Congress. At the end of the conversation, Adelson told him: "I just got off the phone with Tom DeLay, who is a very good friend of mine, and he told me that Congress has just got back from holiday so we've got a million other things to attend to. And to this human rights issue, you know, we could, I can sort of put it in line so it's way back, so by the time he raises it, the Moscow vote [of the international Olympic Committee - Y.M.] will be over so it won't have any effect one way or the other." And thus, in a mysterious way, the Republican Party leadership, led by DeLay changed its mind to allow the resolution to be brought to a vote. On July 10, 2001, three days before the decisive vote of the International Olympic Committee in Moscow, Lantos took the floor in the House of Representatives and appealed to the Republicans not to delay the legislation and to make it possible for the representatives of the American people to express themselves on the subject. He pointed out there was religious persecution in China and no freedom of expression.

About half a year later, in February 2002, Adelson and his company won one of the three concessions to set up a casino, hotel and convention center in Macau. Tom DeLay's office did not respond to queries from Haaretz on the matter. Hananel refused to comment, as did Suen's lawyer John O'Maley. Adelson's lawyers and assistant also refused to respond.

  • More Jewish World news and features