(Adding Australian gov’t statement in 4th para; Crown statement in 5th para)
SHANGHAI/BEIJING, Aug 12 (Reuters) - China on Saturday freed one of the last remaining Crown Resorts Ltd executives jailed for illegally promoting gambling, as a protracted saga that forced the Australian casino operator to cancel global expansion plans and hurt profits nears an end.
Jason O’Connor, head of international VIP gambling with the casino giant, was released before 7 a.m., an official told media outside the detention centre in Shanghai.
The Australian was the most senior of 16 staff detained in October and jailed by a Shanghai court in June. His 10-month sentence ran from the time of his first detention on Oct. 14 last year.
He was flying home following his release on Saturday, Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in an emailed statement. She did not give a time for his arrival.
Crown executive chairman John Alexander said in an emailed statement he was “very pleased” staff were being reunited with their families and expressed gratitude for the help provided by the Australian government and the company’s legal team over the past few months.
The authorities released 10 employees, including Australian nationals Jerry Xuan and Jane Pan Dan, in July.
Crown, half-owned by billionaire James Packer, had been trying to attract wealthy Chinese to its casinos located outside China, where gambling is illegal, except for Macao.
But the case prompted Crown, the world’s biggest listed casino company outside China, to retreat from global expansion plans and sell off its Macao assets, and instead shift its focus back home. (Reporting by Xihao Jiang in SHANGHAI, Shu Zhang and Josephine Mason in BEIJING; additional reporting by Ben Cooper in SYDNEY and Brenda Goh in SHANGHAI; writing by Josephine Mason; Editing by Adrian Croft)