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Crown Resorts employees ‘formally arrested’, face months behind bars

Beijing: The three Australian employees of James Packer’s Crown Resorts detained in China after a series of nationwide raids last month have been formally arrested, all but ensuring months more in custody as authorities prepare to move to trial.

A fourth Australian, who was detained in connection with the case but is not a direct employee of Crown, is also understood to have been formally arrested.

Australian Crown staff detained in China

Three Australians, including one senior executive, are among 18 employees to be detained. (Video courtesy ABC News 24)

A total of 18 Crown employees – including Australians Jason O’Connor, Jerry Xuan and Pan Dan, Malaysian Alfread Gomez and 14 Chinese nationals – were detained in a coordinated police operation across several Chinese cities on October 13 and 14. Only one, Shanghai-based administrative assistant Jiang Ling, a Chinese national, has been released on bail.

Relatives of those in detention confirmed Chinese authorities had begun to issue formal notification of the arrests on Sunday.

“The notice just says they have been arrested under ‘gambling crimes’, that’s it,” said one family member, who declined to be named, adding they hoped to convene with their lawyers shortly.

The formalisation of the arrests came within the standard 37 days of detention allowed under Chinese law. Further investigation will now be carried out before charges are formally made and the case handed over to court prosecutors, a process that could drag on for months.

It is illegal to promote or organise gambling activities on mainland China. While the arrests have been made on the apparent basis of “gambling crimes”, the final charges will not be determined until the case moves to trial.

The coordinated raids against Crown’s operations comes amid a broader anti-corruption blitz targeting money laundering and illicit money transfers offshore.

The Crown employees were arrested for "gambling-related crimes". It is illegal to promote or organise gambling ...
The Crown employees were arrested for “gambling-related crimes”. It is illegal to promote or organise gambling activities on mainland China. Photo: Erin Jonasson

Speculation remains rife in the Asian gaming industry as to why Crown has been targeted when other foreign casinos – and myriad junket operators – have also been active in marketing to potential customers on the mainland.

This is despite several public and direct warnings from Chinese authorities that it would not tolerate the recruitment of Chinese nationals to gamble overseas, which had culminated in the arrest of numerous South Korean casino employees since last year.

Jason O'Connor is the most senior of the Australians detained by Chinese authorities.
Jason O’Connor is the most senior of the Australians detained by Chinese authorities. Photo: Supplied

U Io Hung, who runs the CCUE VIP Club junket operation out of Macau, said Crown had made a “big mistake” by being too high-profile and eschewing junkets – which act as middlemen who recommend high-value gamblers – in order to avoid paying commissions.

“They went over themselves to look for clients… they just wanted revenue. They’ve made a big mistake,” Mr U told Fairfax Media. “They come over with their business cards they say ‘I’m Crown, I’ll use a private jet to send you over there’, it’s too obvious.

“We perform our business in the grey zone of the Chinese law, we will visit some potential clients [but] not directly tell them our actual job.”

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