Authorities in mainland China have handed over criminal cases concerning 18 employees of Australian casino operator Crown Resorts Ltd to a district-level prosecutor’s office, reported Australian media. The move brings those people a step closer to trial following their detention in October last year, according to the reports.
The Australian Financial Review reported on Wednesday that the case was given to Shanghai’s Baoshan District People’s Procurator two weeks ago. The newspaper added that handing the case to a district rather than city-level prosecutor suggests authorities are pursuing lower-level charges around the promotion of gambling, rather than more serious offences.
“Giving the case to a district-level procurator implies a less severe or shorter sentence,” said Shanghai criminal lawyer Si Weijiang, as quoted by the Australian Financial Review. Mr Si additionally said it would usually take the procurator’s office a further three months to review the case, before handing it over to a local court which was responsible for setting trial dates.
While specific charges haven’t been detailed, the Crown Resorts employees were detained on suspicion of committing “gambling-related crimes”, said at the time the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Three Australians – including Jason O’Connor, the group’s executive vice president for international VIP business – were said to have been among the Crown Resorts staff arrested.
In February, Crown Resorts had announced turnover from its VIP gambling operations in Australia had plunged 45.3 percent year-on-year in the six months ending December 31. Executives with the company said at the time they were seeking “clarity” in relation to the detentions in mainland China, adding that Crown Resorts had “no intention to retreat” from the Chinese market.
In a presentation on Wednesday at the Macquarie Securities Australia Conference in Sydney, Australian casino operator The Star Entertainment Group Ltd said its international VIP business continues to be impacted by the detention of the Crown Resorts employees last year. Star Entertainment said however that its international VIP business volumes are “showing signs of stabilisation”.
Star Entertainment said it continues to diversify into global VIP markets, expanding its VIP business in South Asia, while applying a “near term cautious approach in North Asia”.
Matt Bekier, Star Entertainment’s chief executive, had said in February that the detentions of Crown Resorts employees in mainland China had triggered “greater caution” in the market.
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