China arrests three Australian Crown Resorts employees

The logo of Australia's top casino operator Crown Resorts adorns a fence surrounding the Crown Perth hotel and casino complex in Western Australia, October 20, 2016. Picture taken October 20, 2016. REUTERS/Aaron Bunch EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE.

Australian officials have met with the three Crown Resorts Ltd (CWN.AX) employees detained in China since mid-October, Australia’s foreign minister Julie Bishop said, after the trio were formally arrested on suspicion of gambling offences.

Australian officials visited their three nationals – part of a larger group of 17 Crown employees in detention – in Shanghai, Bishop told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.

“We were able to provide advice and support. We provided messages from their families. There is an anti-corruption agenda of President Xi Jinping and gambling is one of the areas of interest, so we are subject to the laws of China.”

The consular visit comes a day after Australian authorities confirmed that three nationals, including Crown’s head of international VIP gambling, Jason O’Connor, were arrested.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang confirmed the three had been arrested on suspicion of gambling offences.

“China will continue to handle this case in accordance with the law,” he told reporters in Beijing, without elaborating.

Eighteen Crown employees were initially detained, but one has since been released, Crown said last week.

The fate of the other 14 is not clear.

Crown did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The detention of the Crown employees has sparked concern about a wider crackdown on

Analysts have linked the detentions – which sent Crown’s shares tumbling – to Chinese laws banning casinos from advertising or promoting gambling in the Chinese mainland, for instance by offering credit to high-spending clients.

In October, Crown said “less than half” its international VIP revenue, or about 12 percent of total revenue, came from Chinese high-rollers.

(Reporting by Tom Westbrook, additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Himani Sarkar)