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Propst: IPI giving $250 in travel money to departing Turkish workers ‘extortionary’

Propst calls another meeting to look at IPI issues

Each of the 16 Turkish workers that Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC repatriated last Monday were allegedly given $250 each in travel money in a move that Rep. Edwin K. Propst (D-Saipan) now describes as “extortionary” because the workers were allegedly made to sign a document relinquishing IPI from all future financial obligations to them.

That has prompted Propst, as chairman of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Gaming, to call another public hearing to discuss this matter, among other issues.

IPI chief executive officer Ray N. Yumul said last night that the payment of $250 was in no way intended for the workers to give up any rights.

Yumul said their lawyer, Michael Dotts, clarified this with the U.S. Labor Department.

“I also personally do not agree that the funds were to be in exchange for them waiving their rights,” he said.

The CEO said Hasan Gokce, the leader of the Turkish workers, asked for $250 per person to be given last Sunday night, or less than 12 hours before their flight to Turkey.

He said IPI had to use petty cash to pay the Turkish workers.

Yumul said an IPI representative wanted to have them acknowledge that they received the funds.

Yumul also disclosed that IPI also paid for transfer service, lodging, and COVID-19 testing at an additional cost of $13,000.

In a Facebook post, Propst also disclosed that they are being told that IPI is willing to pay $6 million toward the $15 million it owes in its annual casino licensing fee if lawmakers support a bill that will split or separate the casino from its hotel room obligations.

“IPI is in no position to be pulling strings again and calling the shots. Those days are over. None of us in the leadership can be bought, bribed, or bullied,” he said.

It was learned that the Senate passed yesterday in a session on Rota Senate Bill 22-09, which separates the regulation of the casino gaming and the hotel facilities. Sen. Victor B. Hocog (R-Rota), who introduced the legislation.

Propst said that if IPI has $6 million to spare, it should use that to pay its workers what they are owed, pay its vendors, and stop trying to buy all the real estate on the island. “How much property have they bought thus far? Did they come to build a casino or to buy up property? Where are their priorities?” asked Propst.

On the $250 cash for travel money, Propst said the 16 Turkish workers who left the CNMI last Monday with a tiny fraction of what they are owed “got another kick in the gut from IPI.”

He said as the Turkish workers were about to depart Saipan on a four-day trip back to Turkey, they were given $250 in cash for travel money “if, and only if, they would sign a document relinquishing IPI” from all future financial obligations, and that included money they are owed.

“How despicable and dirty,” said the lawmaker, noting that IPI knows all too well those workers were under duress and desperate for travel money.

He said IPI knows the workers can barely speak English, let alone read a legal document, without a translator or attorney present.

Propst said this in essence was extortion.

“Either you sign this document or you don’t get $250 of travel money. Was IPI obligated to give them $250? Perhaps not. But it would have been a kind gesture from a company that treated these and other workers like cattle,” the lawmaker said.

Propst said he has informed Commonwealth Casino Commission executive director Andrew Yeom and the U.S. Department of Labor about this, and that he will be calling another meeting to discuss this and other pressing matters.

He said he wants to get to the truth about IPI, even if they have to move to an executive session.

“What is IPI’s cash flow right now? Can it finish their initial gaming facility?” asked Propst, referring to ongoing construction of IPI’s Imperial Palace Resort in Garapan.

He asked whatever happened to the Development Plan Advisory Committee and where is DPAC’s report and if they can see its report. DPAC was created by the Casino License Agreement to allow the CNMI to monitor the implementation status of IPI’s initial gaming facility and Phase 1 of the proposed Saipan Integrated Resorts.

In February 2020, then-CCC executive director Edward C. Deleon Guerrero stated that the issue of the Imperial Palace Resort building’s structural integrity is an old story for CCC.

Deleon Guerrero said there was a rumor that the building is unsafe and leaning, and other things, but that they found out those are not true.
Deleon Guerrero said DPAC group no longer joins CCC.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com

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