China sentences Crown Resorts staff to prison over gambling charges
An Australian and two dual nationals among those convicted over the casino operator’s sales and marketing activities in China
A Shanghai court sentenced 16 Australian and Chinese employees of a casino company to up to 10 months in prison on Monday after they pleaded guilty to gambling-related charges, the company and an Australian official said.
Nineteen defendants, including three Australians from the sales and marketing team of Australia’s Crown Resorts, were convicted by Baoshan District People’s Court.
Three defendants were not fined or sentenced to prison, Crown Resorts said.
Casino gambling and the promotion of gambling are illegal on the mainland, and agents are banned from organising groups of more than 10 Chinese citizens to gamble abroad.
According to Chinese law, anyone who “runs a gambling house or makes gambling his profession” can face up to three years in prison.
“The three Australians and the other defendants pleaded guilty,” Australian consul general in Shanghai Graeme Meehan told reporters outside the Baoshan District People’s Court.
“The Australian government has monitored this case very closely,” he said. “We will be continuing to provide consular assistance to the Australians and their families for as long as that’s required,” he said.
Jason O’Connor, the head of Crown Resorts international VIP programmes, was sentenced to 10 months, while Australian-Chinese dual nationals Jerry Xuan and Jenny Pan received sentences of nine months’ imprisonment, Meehan said.
Their sentences start from the date they were detained, which was October 14. This would mean they have already served at least eight months, Meehan said.
At least half of the 19 had been on bail awaiting trial, according to an officer from the court’s propaganda office who only gave his surname, Li.
Sixteen of the 19 staff were fined a total of 8.62 million yuan (US$1.26 million or HK$9.83 million), which Crown said it would pay.
Crown’s vice-president in China, Malaysian Alfread Gomez, was also among the defendants.
“Crown remains respectful of the sovereign jurisdiction of the People’s Republic of China and does not intend to comment further at this time,” the company said.
Gambling is allowed in the Chinese enclave of Macau, one of Asia’s main gambling hubs, and big-spending Chinese are often coveted by foreign casinos.
The industry has been known to skirt China’s ban on promoting gambling by touting destination packages rather than the gaming itself, particularly as Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ongoing corruption crackdown has deterred some gamblers from visiting Macau.
The Crown staffers were suspected of arranging junkets overseas for wealthy Chinese gamblers. The marketing employees were detained in raids across the mainland last year as Beijing cracked down on high-roller gambling promotions.
In 2015, police arrested 13 South Korean casino managers and 34 Chinese agents for allegedly selling packages with free tours and free hotels.
Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Bloomberg