Thu, Aug 17, 8:25am by Staff Writer
Exactly 10 months to the day after being arrested and detained by Chinese authorities, Crown Resorts executive Jason O’Connor was released from custody on August 14.
In a statement issued by John Alexander, who serves as executive chairman for Crown, the casino conglomerate confirmed that O’Connor had returned to his home in Melbourne:
“Crown is pleased that all of our employees have now been released and reunited with their families and loved ones.”
O’Connor, who worked in Macau as head of international VIP programs for Crown, was arrested on October 14 of last year along with 18 other Crown employees. After being charged with the crime of promoting illegal gambling – allegations which stemmed from Crown’s aggressive courting of Chinese high-rollers – the employees collectively pleaded guilty in a June trial that spanned less than a single day.
One of three Australian citizens caught up in the dragnet, O’Connor received a 10-month prison sentence as part of the plea deal, while Jerry Xuan and Jane Pan Da were sentenced to 9-month terms. All sentences handed down included time served, however, leading to O’Connor’s release this week.
Alexander expressed gratitude for the aptitude of Crown’s legal team, along with the diplomacy of the Australian government, in securing what most Chinese court observers have labeled lenient punishments:
“Crown is deeply appreciative of the support provided by legal counsel and thanks the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Australian Government for their professionalism and assistance throughout the course of the matter.”
Crown mogul James Packer, who recently returned to the company’s Board of Directors, may have played a part in securing those light sentences. Rather than lash out at Chinese authorities in the immediate aftermath of the arrests, Packer issued a statement designed to achieve de-escalation:
“I am respectful, that these detentions have occurred in another country and are therefore subject to their sovereign rules and investigative processes.”
In addition to the prison terms, O’Connor was fined $390,000, while Pan and Xuan were fined $78,000 and $39,000, respectively. All told, the 19 employees were collectively fined $1.67 million, with Crown stepping in immediately to pay the full amount as an “ex gratia” payment – or one made out of moral duty rather than legal obligation.
In a statement offered to the Sydney Morning Herald, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop confirmed that Crown’s ongoing Macau saga has come to a close:
“Mr O’Connor is the last of three Australian Crown employees to be released following completion of their sentences.”
Despite their status as Australian nationals, Pan and Xuan were permitted to remain in China following their release last month – but O’Connor was deported as part of his release.
As part of the Chinese legal system’s harsh approach to punishing foreigners, O’Connor’s sentencing agreement called for him to be forcibly escorted to a nearby airport for immediate transport out of China:
“Personnel executing a deportation shall monitor the means of transportation for the foreigner being deported and shall not leave the premises until s/he has boarded and departed
The foreigner shall be escorted by prison officers, guarding armed police and foreign affairs police … and may be handcuffed if necessary.”
Even as O’Connor returns to his family and career, his company continues to suffer the ill effects of the Macau imbroglio. Just two months after the arrests, Crown sold off its billion-dollar stake in a Macau casino resort, while shuttering the majority of its marketing offices throughout Asia.
Domestically, Crown has seen its once vaunted VIP program fall by the wayside, with the company reporting a 49 percent decline in turnover during the fiscal year which ended on June 30.
As Sudhir Kale, founder of GamePlan Consultants, told the Sydney Morning Herald, Crown has endured companywide repercussions:
“This is the end of a long and arduous journey for Crown.
The company has well and truly paid its dues by way of fines, huge legal costs, drop in market capitalisation, and the emotional trauma experienced by its employees while in prison.”
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