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Three Australians among 18 Crown Resorts staff held in mainland

China has reportedly detained at least 18 employees of Australian casino giant Crown Resorts, including three Australians, amid increasing efforts by the Chinese authorities in preventing the outflow of hot money from the country that is believed to have led to the recent dramatic devaluation of Chinese yuan.

The Australian Government said it is aware of reports of the possible detention, and has been in touch with related Chinese authorities in confirming the case.

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“Consular officials are seeking to confirm these reports with the relevant Chinese authorities,” Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told the South China Morning Post on Saturday in an email.

“If Australians have been detained, consular officials will seek to offer appropriate consular assistance in accordance with the Consular Services Charter,” the statement added.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Saturday that it was trying to understand the situation.

“Crown believes that a number of our employees in China are being questioned by local authorities and at this time we can provide no further details,” Crown Resorts said in an e-mailed statement to Bloomberg News.

The three Australians, who are among the group of at least 18 people arrested on Thursday night , are said to be members of the gaming group’s sales and marketing team in China. One of them is believed to be a senior executive at the company, the Australian Financial Review reported. The three Australians are believed to have been detained while visiting China on a business trip.

The rest of the detained are believed to be local Chinese employees based across several major Chinese cities including Beijing and Shanghai.

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It was unclear why they have been detained or if any charge has been laid against them.

Under the consular agreement between the two countries, China has 72 hours to inform Australia if they are holding one of its nationals.

Gambling and advertising casinos is illegal under Chinese law, and Macau is the only place in China where casinos are legal.

A report by The Age in Melbourne quoting an industry insider with knowledge about the arrests, suggests that Crown has tried to get around regulations by risking to deploy its marketing employees in the mainland.

In October last year, Chinese police arrested 13 South Korean casino managers and several Chinese agents suspected of luring people from China to gamble in South Korea, Reuters reported.

China’s recent crackdown on foreign casinos has been seen as an extension of president Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive.

The reported detentions come amid China’s increasing efforts to halt capital outflow and a dramatic devaluation of its currency. Last month, the country’s foreign reserves dropped by US$19 billion to US$3.2 trillion.

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Crown, one of Australia’s largest entertainment groups, has a substantial presence in Macau as a key investor in Melco Crown Entertainment, one of the biggest developers of casinos in Macau, which is a joint venture between Australian gaming mogul James Packer’s Crown Resorts and Macau billionaire Lawrence Ho’s Melco International.