As Sheldon Adelson built a casino empire and a vast fortune, he and his company, the Las Vegas Sands, developed a reputation for being combative and litigious.
For sheer courtroom drama and international intrigue, it's hard to match the suit filed by Hong Kong businessman Richard Suen, who says that the Las Vegas Sands owes him millions of dollars for helping the company win a gambling license from the Beijing government in 2002 to open a casino in Macau.
Suen says he arranged meetings between Chinese officials and the Sands, and that letters he exchanged with Adelson and Sands President William Weidner suggest that, in return for his efforts, he was promised a minimum of $5 million plus 2 percent of the net profits from the Macau gambling operations. The case, which went to trial last month in Clark County, Nev., and is expected to continue through mid-May, has featured testimony from Adelson and Weidner, as well as Suen.
Adelson's testimony suggested that the Chinese asked him in 2001 to help block legislation in Congress that could have endangered Beijing's bid to land the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. Adelson said he personally contacted several lawmakers, and he cited a July 4, 2001, call he made from China to one of his closest friends in Congress, then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas.
Adelson testified that he got through to DeLay at a barbecue and that the two discussed a nonbinding resolution pending in the House that might have hurt the Chinese effort.
DeLay had been a vocal opponent of allowing China to host the Games. But a spokesman for DeLay, who is no longer in Congress, has flatly denied that the Texan had anything to do with blocking the bipartisan resolution, which had been introduced by the late Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif. The resolution, which asked the U.S. delegation to the International Olympic Committee to oppose the Beijing bid because of China's record on human rights, never made it to the House floor. On July 13, 2001, the IOC approved China as the site of the Games.
When Weidner took the stand, he echoed Adelson's testimony about the phone call to DeLay. Weidner said he then asked the company's lobbyists at Patton Boggs to let the Chinese Embassy in Washington know that the Sands had helped to block a vote on the resolution. Weidner testified that the Chinese were "grateful" on hearing the news.
Adelson, whose testimony at times was reportedly feisty, said that Suen did "nothing of value." But, Adelson added, "I'm willing to pay him for his time and expenses."
Under questioning from Suen's attorney, John O'Malley, Adelson raised some eyebrows by suggesting that Weidner should not have asked Suen for help, because Suen didn't have the necessary financial background to locate investors. When O'Malley asked if Weidner breached his fiduciary duties, Adelson responded: "Yes. But I still love him, and I have a lot of respect for him."
Several hours later under cross-examination by his own attorney, the hard-charging trial lawyer Rusty Hardin, Adelson did an about-face: "Neither Bill nor I violated our fiduciary responsibilities. Period."
This article appears in the May 10, 2008 edition of National Journal Magazine Contents.