Shanghai (China) (AFP) – A Chinese court on Monday convicted 19 current and former employees of Australia’s Crown Resorts company on gambling-related charges, handing jail terms to 16 of them, including three Australians.
The defendants pleaded guilty and 16 were given nine- and 10-month sentences, which include time served since they were arrested in October, meaning they could be released over the next two months.
They were fined a total of $1.25 million. Three others who were granted bail in November were neither fined nor jailed.
The casino company and Australia’s consul general in Shanghai announced the verdicts after the half-day trial was held behind closed doors at Baoshan District Court. A court official confirmed the ruling to AFP.
Gaming is illegal in China and companies are not allowed explicitly to advertise gambling, but few details of the accusations have been released since last year’s arrests.
"The Australian government has monitored this case very closely," Consul General Graeme Meehan told reporters outside the courthouse. "We will be continuing to provide consular assistance to the Australians and their families for as long as required," he said.
Two of the 19 who were put on trial are former staff members. In addition to the Australians, 15 are Chinese and one is Malaysian. Five were sentenced to 10 months, while 11 received nine-month jail terms.
Jason O’Connor, the executive vice president of Crown division VIP International, in charge of luring rich Chinese to Australia, was given a 10-month jail term and a two million yuan ($292,000) fine. The two other Australians, Pan Dan and Jerry Xuan, were given nine-month sentences and fined 400,000 yuan ($58,000) and 200,000 yuan ($29,000), respectively.
The Crown staffers were suspected of arranging junkets overseas for wealthy Chinese gamblers.
Meehan said their sentences start from the day of their detention on October 14, 2016. This would mean they have already served at least eight months.
The marketing employees were detained in raids across China last year as Beijing cracked down on high-roller gambling promotions.
The court schedule showed the 19 were on trial for "suspected gambling".
Crown said in a statement on Monday that it was informed that the 19 were convicted of violating a law that calls for prison sentences for "anyone who organises gambling parties or is engaged in gambling as one’s main business for the purpose of making profits".
"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.
Crown operates casinos across Australia and the world, although this year it has undergone restructuring amid China’s gambling crackdown, which has driven away many big spenders and hurt revenues.
Last month, Crown sold a remaining stake in its Macau operation to joint venture partner Melco International, after shelving plans late last year for a Las Vegas casino to concentrate on Australian luxury hotel and casino businesses.