Crown Resorts head of international high-roller operations, Jason O’Connor, will be released on August 14 after being handed a ten-month jail sentence in China for gambling-related crimes, including time served.
Two other Australian Crown staff members, Pan Dan, who goes by the English name Jenny, and Beijing-based Jerry Xuan, a director of international marketing, were given nine-month sentences, including time served. The Crown staff were detained in a series of overnight raids last October, which means the two Australians will be released next month.
Australian Consul General in Shanghai Graeme Meehan briefed journalists outside the court in Shanghai on Monday after the trial ended. Media were not allowed to attend the trial. Mr Meehan said their time served began from October 14 last year.
A separate legal source told the Australian Financial Review all 19 current and former Crown staff pleaded guilty to gambling-related crimes. Five staff, including Mr O’Connor and Malaysian national Alfraed Gomez, who was senior vice president for China, were given ten-month sentences. Eleven employees, including the two other Australians, were given nine-month sentences and the three junior staff already on bail were free to go home on Monday.
Friends of one of the local Chinese Crown staff, Tao Yin, told The Australian Financial Review she was among those given a nine-month sentence. Ms Tao was listed at number seven among the Crown defendants.
“We were told they could be released today,” one friend said, clutching a large bunch of sunflowers he had planned to give to Ms Tao on her release. Instead, she will be released next month.
Asked what Ms Tao’s job involved, he said she organised for people to visit Crown’s hotels.
Insiders say Mr O’Connor and other staff members struggled with the decision to plead guilty.
However, in a system where the conviction rate is above 99 per cent, pleading guilty is often viewed as the only pragmatic option.
Family members and lawyers attended the trial about an hour outside Shanghai’s city centre on Monday. One lawyer when asked how the group was doing said: “they are all great.” One of the family members was wearing a t-shirt with “Think Happy, Be Happy” written on it.
It is understood Mr O’Connor’s wife was not planning to travel to Shanghai for the trial.
At around 8.45am grey vans carrying the three junior staff, who had been released on bail, as well as their family members and lawyers arrived at the court. Among those were Jenny Jiang, who organised visas and hotel reservations for Crown customers, and her husband American executive Jeff Sikkema.
Shortly after that, two police vans arrived and were most likely carrying the defendants, who had been detained. Family members standing outside waved to them through the windows.
Mr Meehan along with other embassy and consular staff also attended the trial.
An official from the Public Security Bureau was among the crowd outside checking the identification of journalists.
On the mainland, any marketing of casinos or organisation of overseas gambling trips involving 10 or more people is strictly forbidden. However, gaming companies can advertise the tourism aspects of their resorts, which is why they are allowed to have marketing staff based in China. Still, most operations are low-key. Crown, for example, had no local offices or headquarters in China with employees working from home.
Among the other defendants was Mr Gomez, who has been with Crown for 7½ years and Shanghai-based David Dai, who was the bars manager for Melco Crown before moving back to the mainland more than eight years ago to become a director of international sales for Crown Melbourne.
The conclusion of the court process will bring to an end a horror eight months for Crown and its controlling shareholder James Packer.
The crisis in China and subsequent drop in high-roller gambling revenues resulted in Mr Packer selling out of his Macau joint venture, Melco Crown, and scrapping plans for a casino in Las Vegas, although the billionaire is still hoping to develop one in Japan.
The arrests also precipitated a reshuffle in the executive ranks: Robert Rankin stepped down as Crown chairman in January and last week exited the board, while chief executive Rowen Craigie left the company in late February.
John Alexander, a long-time confidante of the Packer family, has assumed control of the Casino group as executive chairman, while Mr Packer has also rejoined the board.
Early in 2015, the Chinese government launched “Operation Chain Break” with the stated aim of stopping the flow of illicit funds into foreign casinos. At the time, Hua Jingfeng, a deputy director at China’s Ministry of Public Security, said the operation would focus on operators from neighboring countries.
“Some foreign countries think of us as a big market, and we have already investigated a series of related cases,” he said, according to the People’s Daily newspaper.
Three months after the operation was launched, two South Korean gaming companies were targeted with 13 staff detained along with dozens more local employees. They have since been released.
Shares in Crown, which dropped 25% to $9.63 after the arrests in China, have recovered in recent months as the company sold assets and returned capital to shareholders.
On Monday the stock rose 8 cents to $12.83 by the early afternoon.
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