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Wynn-Okada lawsuit halted another 6 months for Okada criminal probe

TOKYO, Nov 1 (Reuters) - A civil lawsuit between Wynn Resorts Ltd and Japanese billionaire Kazuo Okada has been put on hold for another six months to allow U.S. prosecutors to continue investigating Okada and his companies for possible bribery in the Philippines.

Clark County District Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez granted a request made by federal prosecutors to extend the stay on discovery in the civil proceedings so as not to interfere with the ongoing criminal probe, according to lawyers present at the hearing on Thursday.

The Justice Department had requested an extension earlier this week, presenting new evidence to the court under seal which they argued warranted further investigation.

The ruling marked a reversal of stance for Gonzales, who had told lawyers when the first six-month stay was granted in May that she would not approve an extension. Gonzales cited concerns for the safety of witnesses cooperating with the probe in making her decision, according to media reports.

For nearly two years, Okada has been locked in a legal battle with Wynn Resorts Chief Executive Steve Wynn, during which the former business partners have exchanged allegations of illegal conduct.

Wynn forcibly redeemed Okada's 20 percent stake in the U.S. casino operator last year at a steep discount, alleging Okada had made improper payments to Philippine government officials to advance his planned $2 billion casino project there.

Okada, who founded and controls Japanese pachinko gaming machine maker Universal Entertainment Corp, has denied any wrongdoing and filed a counterclaim to nullify the share redemption.

Eric Andrus, a spokesman for the Japanese company at RLM Finsbury, declined to comment on the court ruling.

A Wynn Resorts spokesman declined to comment.

U.S. federal prosecutors have been investigating Okada and his companies for potential violations of anti-bribery laws in relation to his casino development on Manila Bay.

The Philippine government has also been investigating $40 million in payments made by Universal affiliates to a politically-connected consultant in 2010 around the time Universal was lobbying for concessions for its casino resort.

Universal has filed a defamation suit against Reuters in Tokyo for its reporting on the $40 million in payments.