Sixteen of 19 employees from casino operator Crown Resorts Ltd detained by mainland Chinese authorities in 2016 have been given jail sentences by a Shanghai court, said the company in a filing following a judicial hearing on Monday. The defendants had been charged with gambling-related crimes.
Zhai Jian, described by Reuters news agency as a lawyer for the defendants, was quoted saying all had pled guilty.
Three of the 19, namely defendants that were bailed on November 11, 2016, were not fined or sentenced to a period of incarceration, Crown Resorts said.
The 19 dealt with at Monday’s hearing comprised 17 current and two former employees of Crown Resorts, including three Australian citizens.
Of the 16 people handed jail terms, 11 were sentenced to a period of incarceration of 9 months and five to a period of 10 months. The sentences were backdated to October 2016 when the defendants were first detained by Chinese authorities, meaning they only have a few more weeks to serve as now-convicted prisoners.
The 16 jailed defendants were also collectively fined a total of RMB8.62 million (US$1.26 million). The amount is being paid “ex gratia” by Crown Resorts, the firm said in the filing to the Australian Securities Exchange following the court hearing.
Jason O’Connor, Crown Resorts’ executive vice president for international VIP business, was given a 10-month sentence. Two other Australian nationals – China-based Xuan Peng, also known as Jerry Xuan, and Pan Dan, also known as Jane Pan – were each sentenced to nine months in jail, said Crown Resorts.
Australian public broadcaster the ABC said that with eight months already served in detention, Mr Xuan and Ms Pan should each have one month remaining to serve in detention, while Mr O’Connor was likely to face another two months behind bars.
In Monday’s filing, Crown Resorts said it remained “respectful of the sovereign jurisdiction of the People’s Republic of China”. The company said that, at this time, it would not be commenting further on the matter.
Lawrence Ho Yau Lung, chairman and chief executive of Melco Resorts and Entertainment Ltd, told the Financial Times newspaper in an interview in May, that Crown Resorts – controlled by his former business partner James Packer – and other casino operators had upset the Chinese government by engaging staff to promote gambling despite a ban on gambling marketing in mainland China.
In May, Crown Resorts completed the disposal of its remaining stake in Melco Resorts, a company that owns and operates casino properties in Macau and in the Philippines.
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"Most investors believe that Macau is ‘uninvestable’. Our experience has been that when opinions are so unanimously negative, then the risk/reward is skewed to the upside"
Japanese brokerage Nomura