CANBERRA – Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is concerned about the Australian employees of James Packer's Crown Resorts group, including a top executive, who have been detained in China amid reports at least one Chinese based staff member has signed a "sleep-deprived confession".
After a three day wait, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) has finally been officially notified of the detentions of 18 Crown employees after late-night raids last Thursday and Friday, including three Australians, as part of an anti-corruption drive by authorities.
China is concerned about Crown's strategy for luring Chinese gamblers. The Foreign Ministry has stated the detentions were conducted over suspected "gambling crimes".
The Australians include the head of Crown's VIP International team Jason O'Connor, who heads up a program designed to lure "high roller" gamblers to Crown Casino in Melbourne.
Chinese authorities have officially notified the Aust govt that they've detained three Australians, all employees of Crown @JulieBishopMP— Leigh Sales (@leighsales) October 17, 2016
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has released a statement saying the Australians are being detained in Shanghai and consular officials are making arrangements to visit them.
Chinese authorities worked to the limits of a bilateral consular treaty which allowed three days in which to notify of the detention of Australians.
Asked by Radio National's Fran Kelly on Tuesday if he is concerned about the Australians, Malcolm Turnbull replied "of course we are".
However, the Prime Minister refused to elaborate on the men's situation.
"As Julie Bishop has said only recently, at any time there are several thousand Australians who are in trouble with the law in other jurisdictions and we provide support for them and assistance to them," Turnbull said.
"That's part of our job. That's what the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade does. It's part of their consular duties."
There are suggestions at least one employee, Shanghai-based administration assistant Jiang Ling, has been coerced into a sleep-deprived "confession" that she had accompanied Chinese customers to Crown Casino in Melbourne.
Keeping suspects awake for the first 48 hours of interrogation is regarded as common practice for Chinese police.
All of the detained Australians have legal representation provided by Crown.
Crown Resorts runs three casinos in Macau, the rich autonomous territory known as the 'Vegas of Asia.'
The raids on Crown have send the share price of the Sydney listed company plummeting, costing boss and billionaire James Packer half a billion dollars.
Chinese authorities are in the midst of an anti-corruption drive targeting money laundering at Macau casinos.