China has freed an Australian casino executive who had been convicted of gambling-related offences.
Jason O’Connor, who headed Crown Resorts’ international VIP programmes, was sentenced to 10 months in prison in Shanghai in June.
Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop confirmed O’Connor’s release on Saturday and said he was returning to Australia to be reunited with his family.
Casino gambling, the marketing of casinos and organising overseas gambling trips involving 10 or more people are illegal in mainland China. The case against Crown Resorts’ staff came as authorities crack down on gambling as part of a wider campaign against official corruption.
Nineteen defendants, including three Australians from Crown’s sales and marketing team, were convicted by the court in Shanghai.
According to Crown Resorts, the 17 current and two former employees were convicted of offences including organising gambling parties or being engaged in gambling as one’s main business, which carry a maximum sentence of three years in prison.
Of the group, 16 were fined and sent to prison, with Crown picking up the combined fines of almost $A1.7m (£1m).
O’Connor is the last of three Australian Crown employees to be released. He and other defendants’ time spent in detention since 14 October was counted toward their sentences.
John Alexander, executive chairman of Crown, said: “We are very pleased that our employees are being reunited with their families. Crown is deeply appreciative of the support provided by our legal counsel over the last few months and thanks the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Australian government for their professionalism and assistance.”
Following the arrests in October last year, Crown Resorts began withdrawing from its Chinese business to concentrate on the Australian market. In May, Crown said it had raised $987m by selling its stake in a joint-venture casino operator in Macau – a Chinese enclave where gambling is legal.
Casino operators across Asia have sought to lure Chinese high-rollers who have avoided Macau — the world’s biggest gambling market — because of Chinese president Xi Jinping’s ongoing corruption crackdown. At the same time, the government has been trying to stop the flow of Chinese money into foreign casinos.
Source: The Guardian