CANBERRA – Australian gaming mogul James Packer has revealed he is "deeply concerned" for the welfare of his staff members under arrest in China, and has stated his company Crown Resorts is doing all it can to ensure they are safe.
Amid reports at least one China-based staff member has signed a "sleep-deprived confession," the billionaire has joined Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in voicing concern for the 18 employees, including three Australians and top executive Jason O'Connor.
Crown Resorts runs three casinos in Macau, the rich autonomous territory known as the 'Vegas of Asia.' It is understood China is concerned about Crown's strategy for luring Chinese gamblers.
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
After a three day wait, as per a bilateral consular treaty, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) was officially notified of the detentions on Monday night. All of the Australians are being helped in Shanghai and consular officials are making arrangements to visit them.
In a statement released Tuesday, Packer said that "as the major shareholder of Crown Resorts, I am deeply concerned for the welfare of those Crown employees detained in China."
Packer said he has sought regular updates and has "asked Crown to do everything possible to contact our employees and to support their families, as we await further details from Chinese authorities."
"I am respectful, that these detentions have occurred in another country and are therefore subject to their sovereign rules and investigative processes."
Crown resorts held an emergency board meeting by phone on Monday night and was briefed by Crown chief executive Rowen Craigie.
"Crown will do whatever it can to support our employees and their families at this difficult time," Packer said.
"Our number one priority is to be able to make contact and to ensure they are all safe."
Earlier, the Prime Minister was asked by Radio National's Fran Kelly on Tuesday if he is concerned about the Australians and replied "of course we are".
However, Turnbull 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.
On Tuesday evening, Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop confirmed two DFAT officials visited two of the Crown employees while the department has requested access to visit the third Australian detained.
The raids on Crown have send the share price of the Sydney listed company plummeting, costing Packer half a billion dollars.