The baffling case surrounding Imperial Palace International (IPI) and its escapades in Saipan doesn’t appear to be reaching the final chapter of the story anytime soon. Allegations of fraud, deceit, lack of funds, slave labor, missed construction deadlines and more haven’t been enough to force casino regulators or anyone else to take action. Now, acting almost as if everything is normal, IPI is asking for considerably more time to complete the project even as its former chair is lambasted for allegedly trying to obstruct justice.
Imperial Palace’s Uncertain Future
Imperial Palace was meant to be completed long before now, but IPI has been granted extension after extension as the embattled casino operator was hit from all sides with legal issues. It was finally given an ultimatum to have the work completed by this past February, “or else,” but that or else has come and gone. IPI knew it wasn’t going to make the deadline and started submitting requests for a five-year extension on the project in February and still has no clear answer.
IPI’s Casino License Agreement with the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) put February 28 as the definitive, line-in-the-sand date before CNMI allowed the line to be moved once again. On January 26, IPI, which has already had its license suspended, sent a request to the commonwealth’s governor, Ralph DLG Torres, asking for an extension, but uncertainty over who can authorize the extension has permeated the scene ever since. It wasn’t until this past June that CNMI Attorney General Edward Manibusan ruled that the Commonwealth Lottery Commission (CLC) has the power to grant the extension, so IPI sent its request to the body at the beginning of July.
IPI Doesn’t Need More Time to Commit the Same Mistakes
Granting an extension at this point seems like an exercise in futility. Imperial Palace has been closed since last year because of COVID-19 and IPI is still involved in a number of litigious disputes while it owes millions of dollars to the CNMI government. Some of the disputes have already led to the cannibalization of Imperial Palace assets to pay off IPI debt, and giving the operator five more years to continue to commit the same egregious errors seems counterproductive to the commonwealth’s stability. Given that there is reportedly more than enough interest in taking over a casino resort in Saipan, IPI hasn’t proven that it deserves to remain there.
The CLC is expected to hold a routine meeting soon, where the subject of the extension is likely to come up. The Commonwealth Casino Commission (CCC) should be involved in that discussion, as well, since it is intimately familiar with IPI’s escapades. However, based on how the conversation has been going so far, there’s a 50/50 chance that a response won’t be given.
Former IPI Chair Still in the Hot Seat
IPI’s former chairperson, Cui Li Jie, vacated her position this past June, perhaps believing that extricating herself from the company would allow her to escape any further blowback. She was wrong. Cui is still an intricate part of the legal battles facing IPI and, despite her own lawyer once referring to her as “incompetent” in the way of US laws, she’s not going to get off the hook that easily.
Cui is now being called out for alleged obstruction of justice. As IPI continues to answer for its actions in court, she has tried to prevent certain communications she had with her former counsel from being accessed. Attorney Aaron Halegua, who has represented a number of plaintiffs over the years as they sought restitution from IPI, has requested that the court deny the request, arguing that the communication is not privileged in the sense that it is part of private discussions between an attorney and his client. Instead, the information should be publicly accessible for two reasons – it was stored on the CNMI’s Electronic Case Files system and her own attorney waived attorney-client privileges before he stepped away.
This is part of one of the many legal battles IPI is facing and centers on a $5.4-million judgment awarded to seven former workers. IPI is appealing that ruling.