Steve Jacobs’ personal fight of the century is still in the preliminary stages at the Regional Justice Center, but casino titan Sheldon Adelson is already taking punches.
With Clark County District Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez in the role of referee, Adelson recently spent four days on the witness stand in an evidentiary hearing to establish jurisdiction in former Sands China Ltd. CEO Jacobs’ wrongful termination lawsuit against Las Vegas Sands Corp., its chairman and CEO Adelson and others. In testimony, the 81-year-old Adelson mixed it up a bit with Gonzalez and sparred often with Jacobs attorney James Pisanelli, who raised issues that are reverberating through the international media from here to Tel Aviv.
In Israel, where Adelson publishes the right-wing Israel Hayom newspaper in unyielding support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, most of the press has been loudly chewing on the allegations that surfaced last week in court. Forget that Reuters first reported many of Jacobs’ juiciest accusations — that the company’s Macau subsidiary had dealings with a junket company directly tied to Wo Hop To triad organized crime figure Cheung Chi Tai, for instance. Adelson’s testimony did little to put the volatile issues to rest. Combined with statements from current and former Sands executives that appeared to contradict him, the week wasn’t exactly a high-water mark for one of the world’s richest men.
No one is soon likely to forget the casino boss playing the tough guy when he said Jacobs went “squealing like a pig to the government” with tales of corporate skullduggery, bribery of public officials and Chinese mob associations.
The PR nightmare got worse as media outside Nevada picked up on the story.
Some of the more memorable headlines:
From the Forward: “Could Sheldon Adelson Empire Be Toppled by a Lawsuit?”
From The Guardian: “Sheldon Adelson faces new scrutiny as documents challenge his testimony.”
From Jewish Business News, “Sheldon Adelson On The Hot Seat For Organized Crime Ties At His Macau Casinos.”
From the Jerusalem Post: “Think about it: Sheldon Adelson and democracy.”
And added: “Adelson’s ties to Chinese mafia could spell downfall.”
From Haaretz: “Adelson facing allegations of links to Chinese organized crime.”
Even NBC’s “Meet the Press” weighed in with a report this past Sunday noting not only Adelson’s enormous contributions to Republican Party politics and the courting he receives from GOP presidential hopefuls, but that damaging Jacobs lawsuit as well.
Quoting Jacobs’ deposition: “Did I report the activities of some of the specific allegations that Sheldon Adelson was personally involved in wrongdoing, illegal and immoral activities, you bet.”
To that, reporter Kelly O’Donnell added, “Jacobs claims that those activities included rampant prostitution and loan sharking, potential money laundering, an involvement with Chinese gangs known as ‘triad,’ who allegedly brought in high-stakes gamblers on so-called junkets. A combative Adelson disputed the allegations.”
Indeed Adelson did. For four days, in fact.
After Jacobs’ attorneys produced company email that lauded the fresh-faced Sands China CEO’s energy and ability right up until the time he was sacked, Adelson retorted that the plaintiff was “delusional.” His counterpunches were plentiful, but they landed less often as his testimony wore on.
On the final day, Pisanelli produced a document and asked Adelson, “Were you made aware in the 2010 time frame that your company was analyzing relationships with Cheung Chi Tai and other junket operators?”
Adelson replied, “I told you before. Our company is continuously looking at issues for appropriate and inappropriate connections of any kind directly or indirectly.”
When the attorney pressed for more specifics, Adelson retreated into a recitation of his company’s compliance and the retired law enforcement experts it has hired to deal with such matters.
“I keep reading in the newspapers that say that Cheung Chi Tai was only a witness in a trial in Hong Kong concerning some wrongdoing,” Adelson said. “He was never accused of any wrongdoing. It’s not — I don’t get involved in those things. … We do everything we can to stay away from the bad guys, and we’re constantly on the lookout for any direct or indirect connection.”
Considering the company’s compliance effort is at the heart of the Jacobs lawsuit, maybe we’ll see how Adelson punches his way out of that corner once this bruising fight really begins.
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Email him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295. Find him on Twitter: @jlnevadasmith