Imperial Pacific International Refuses to Abandon Saipan Casino Despite Financial Difficulties

The majority shareholder of Imperial Pacific International (IPI) is still confident that their organization ought to retain its casino monopoly in Saipan. Cui Lijie, who was once referred to by her own lawyer as “inept” as the head of the company, is certain IPI can secure the funds needed to continue with the suspended Imperial Palace project.

Cui participated in an interview with local news outlet Marianas Variety on Monday, where she projected an optimistic outlook about IPI’s future. Despite bankrupting the Commonwealth Casino Commission (CCC) and owing over $100 million, IPI is clinging to the hope of attaining an investor to rescue them.

The embattled Cui, who previously served as IPI’s chair, minimized the company’s incompetence in managing its affairs. The casino operator has contended with – and still faces – various legal disputes and increasing debt but, in her opinion, it’s not IPI’s fault.

The CCC recently reported that IPI owes it over $50 million for not paying licensing fees for several years. This resulted in the commission essentially shutting down, as it does not receive government subsidies.

In addition, the company has faced allegations of money laundering, human trafficking, forced labor and fiduciary irresponsibility. The bills continue to mount with no money coming in.

The Coronavirus Crisis

COVID-19 caused the casino to close, which has hindered its capacity to generate revenue. While that is a reasonable argument in favor of IPI’s current state, its problems began well before the pandemic.

Several of the CEOs that have been in charge in recent years lacked the expertise or background to lead the company. One, for instance, was a former security and surveillance manager the company appointed after losing a CEO.

Cui said in the interview that the issues the company encounters are the result of “poor decisions” IPI’s former executives and managers made. This led to a negative public image, which frightened away investors. When COVID-19 struck, the problems only intensified.

IPI reported a year ago, long after COVID-19 began to subside, that it was procuring new investments. On several occasions, a deal was “near completion,” but it never came to fruition. Now, according to Cui, the investor is gone.

That’s been the pervasive narrative at the company for the past couple of years. It repeatedly “comes close” to obtaining a huge amount of money, but something happens to spoil the plans. Of course, it’s never because IPI is to blame.

A Dead End

Cui now wants to persuade Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) authorities to meet again with the company. Her goal is to perform a full-blown reset and start from scratch. Ideally, the CNMI would make the organization pay off all of its outstanding government debt and lawsuits before that happens.

IPI and the CCC are entrenched in a battle that includes court-ordered arbitration. However, they’re not set to come together to decide what happens next until the end of May.

That provides a lot of leeway with no clear path for either the company or the commission. Meanwhile, IPI will keep offering carrots, hoping to sustain its exclusivity.