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Japan's Universal sues Reuters over Philippine payments reports

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's Universal Entertainment Corp on Tuesday sued Thomson Reuters and three of its journalists for defamation over news articles relating to millions of dollars in payments Universal made to an ex-consultant to the Philippine gaming authority.

Universal, majority owned by Japanese billionaire Kazuo Okada and his son through a family trust, said in a statement it had filed the lawsuit with a court in Tokyo.

The Reuters stories, published on November 16 and November 30, detailed a series of payments made to Rodolfo Soriano, a close associate of the former head of the gaming authority, between January and May of 2010 when Universal was lobbying for concessions for a casino resort on Manila Bay.

The November 30 story said Universal channeled at least $30 million to companies controlled by Soriano, citing company records and people with knowledge of the transactions and related investigations.

"We have not seen the lawsuit but we stand by our reporting," said Reuters spokeswoman Barb Burg.

Soriano is now at the center of an investigation by the Philippine Department of Justice.

The payments are also being probed by the Nevada Gaming Control Board, the regulator for Universal's businesses in the United States.

Universal said in an earlier statement that its compliance committee had already reported on its business in the Philippines to Nevada gaming authorities and that it was "certain that the facts of this case will be brought to light in the near future".

Universal has filed lawsuits against three former employees of the Universal group for $15 million of the payments, claiming they made the transfers without proper authorization.

The company said it was seeking 200 million yen ($2.43 million) in damages from Thomson Reuters and three of its journalists. It said it would seek 100 million yen for Universal and the remainder for Okada Holdings, the Okada family trust.

(Reporting by Nathan Layne; Editing by Mark Bendeich and Dean Yates)

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