Ten Crown Resorts employees, arrested by Chinese authorities last October for marketing the company’s services to Chinese high-rollers, were released on Wednesday.
The ten had been sentenced to nine months imprisonment by the Shanghai Baoshan District Court after pleading guilty on June 26 to “gambling crimes,” just two weeks after charges were filed. Up until that point, they had endured eight months locked up in a Chinese detention centre, with no contact with their families, oblivious to the crime they were accused of.
According to lawyers, one more employee is expected to be released on Thursday, while another five, among them Crown’s executive president of VIP gaming, Jason O’Connor, will be freed next month, having been sentenced to ten months.
In all, 17 Crown employees and two former employees were arrested in nighttime raids in at least three Chinese cities on October 12 last year. Three lower level employees, bailed in November, escaped prison sentences, but all pled guilty at trial.
Among the ten released on Wednesday were two Australian nationals, Jerry Xuan and Pan Dan. According to a Reuters reporter, Xuan left a Shanghai prison with four others on Wednesday morning, flanked by family members and Chinese security officials. All four refused to speak to media as they were bundled into waiting cars.
Meanwhile, six more detainees were released simultaneously from a prison in another part of the city, Reuters said.
The Crown Resorts China VIP marketing team was accused by the court of pursuing an ambitious marketing campaign with aggressive sales targets that generated an estimated $875 million in revenues for Crown in he 2015/16 financial year alone.
Trouble for Crown?
Court documents suggested that the team had outstripped its sales targets by 16 percent for the year, figures pulled from O’Connor’s laptop, seized during his arrest.
All forms of gambling are illegal in mainland China, with the exception of the state-run welfare and sports lotteries, and the employees found themselves caught up in the middle of an intensive crackdown on gambling initiated by the government in Beijing.
Despite fears for the worst, the defendants were ultimately treated leniently. All 19 could have been looking at three years.
Crown says it will pick up $1.67 million fine imposed by the court on its staff for their transgressions. But questions will remain about company’s strategy in China and the possible catastrophic failure of risk assessment by the Crown board.
If the company is found to have broken the law it may face licensing reviews for its land-based casinos in Victoria, Western Australia and New South Wales.