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Aug 12, 5:50 AM EDT

China frees top Australian Crown casino executive from jail

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BEIJING (AP) -- Chinese authorities on Saturday released from jail a top Australian executive at a casino company following the completion of his sentence on gambling-related offenses.

Jason O'Connor, head of Australia's Crown Resorts Ltd.'s international VIP programs, was sentenced to 10 months in prison in Shanghai in June.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, in an emailed statement on Saturday, confirmed O'Connor's release from detention and said he is returning to Australia.

Casino gambling, the marketing of casinos and organizing overseas gambling trips involving 10 or more people are illegal in mainland China. The case against Crown Resorts' staff came as authorities crack down on gambling as part of a wide campaign against official corruption.

Nineteen defendants, including three Australians from Crown's sales and marketing team, had been convicted by the court in Shanghai.

According to Crown Resorts, the 17 current and two former employees were convicted of offenses including organizing gambling parties or being engaged in gambling as one's main business, which carry a maximum sentence of three years in prison.

O'Connor is the last of three Australian Crown employees to be released. He and other defendants' time spent in detention since Oct. 14 were counted toward their sentences.

John Alexander, executive chairman of Crown, said in an emailed statement: "We are very pleased that our employees are being reunited with their families."

Following the arrests in October, Crown Resorts began withdrawing from its Chinese business to concentrate on the Australian market. In May, it said it raised $987 million after it sold off the last of its stake in a decade-long joint-venture casino operator in Macau, a Chinese enclave where gambling is legal.

Casino operators across Asia have sought to lure Chinese high-rollers who have avoided Macau - the world's biggest gambling market - because of Chinese President Xi Jinping's ongoing corruption crackdown. At the same time, the government has been trying to stop the flow of Chinese money into foreign casinos.

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