By Jonathan Stempel
(Reuters) - Las Vegas Sands Corp agreed to pay a $6.96 million criminal penalty to end a U.S. Department of Justice probe into whether it violated a federal anti-bribery law by making payments to a consultant to help it do business in China and Macau.
The casino operator run by billionaire Sheldon Adelson on Thursday also entered a non-prosecution agreement, in which it admitted that executives knowingly failed to set up accounting controls to ensure that the payments were legitimate, and were properly recorded in its books and records.
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From 2006 to 2009, Las Vegas Sands transferred about $60 million to the consultant to promote its business and brands, and paid him about $5.8 million without any "discernable legitimate business purpose," according to settlement papers.
The resolution of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act case follows Las Vegas Sands' related $9 million civil settlement last year with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission over its dealings with the consultant.
Investigators said the consultant was used in part to conceal the company's effort to buy a team in the Chinese Basketball Association, which barred gaming companies from ownership, and part of a Beijing building despite a casino gambling ban there.
Thursday's fine is 25 percent below the minimum recommended under federal guidelines, in part reflecting Las Vegas Sands' cooperation and "extensive" remedial measures, including revamped compliance controls, the Justice Department said.
"The company is pleased that its cooperation and long-term commitment to compliance were recognized in reaching this resolution. We are equally pleased that all inquiries related to these issues have now been completely resolved," Las Vegas Sands spokesman Ron Reese said in an email to Reuters.
Adelson, 83, was not accused of wrongdoing. He is worth $31 billion, according to Forbes magazine.
Las Vegas Sands' properties include the Venetian and the Palazzo in Las Vegas, the Venetian in Macau, and the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, among others.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Sandra Maler, Lisa Shumaker and Gopakumar Warrier)