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3 Australian casino staff in China to face formal charges

Associated Press Associated Press 22/11/2016

BEIJING — China has indicated to Australia that it will prosecute three Australian employees of a casino operator over suspected gambling crimes, the Australian foreign ministry said Tuesday.

A ministry statement said Australia received formal arrest notices from China following the detention last month of three employees of Crown Resorts Ltd. The three were jailed in an apparent crackdown on efforts to lure wealthy Chinese gamblers to its Australian casinos.

China has not said what charges the trio will face or detailed the allegations against them. Fifteen Chinese employees of Crown were also detained last month. The status of their cases is not known.

The three Australians include the head of Crown's VIP International team, Jason O'Connor, who was visiting China from the company headquarters in Melbourne, Australia, when staff were detained in raids across China on Oct. 13 and 14.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Australia's consular staff visited all three on Tuesday.

"They are in good health, they are all represented by lawyers and we were able to provide advice and support and messages from their families," Bishop told Sky News television on Wednesday.

"It is a very difficult circumstance, but we will continue to provide whatever advice and support that we are able," she added.

Australia and China worked closely to enhance two-way trade and investment, she said.

"There is, however, an overall anti-corruption agenda of President Xi Jinping and gambling is one of the areas of interest to them," Bishop said.

Casino gambling is illegal in mainland China, and Chinese law prohibits agents from organizing groups of more than 10 Chinese citizens to gamble abroad.

The industry has been known to skirt the ban by touting destination packages rather than gambling, particularly as Chinese President Xi Jinping's ongoing corruption crackdown has deterred some gamblers from Macau, an offshore Chinese gambling enclave.

The three people arrested are being held in Shanghai, according to the Australian foreign ministry.

Crown did not respond to a request for comment late Tuesday.

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Associated Press writer Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report.

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