HONG KONG (REUTERS) - Macau said the police were questioning Alvin Chau on Saturday (Nov 27), after a Chinese city issued an arrest warrant for the junket mogul, accusing him of operating gambling activities in mainland China.
The Macau government said in a statement that Chau, founder of the special administrative region's biggest junket operator Suncity, was taken to the police station in the morning, based on earlier evidence and after it received a notification about the arrest warrant from the mainland authorities.
Suncity operates VIP gambling rooms across Asia. Junket operators are go-betweens who bring high rollers to play at casinos, extending them credit and collecting on their debts.
Casino gambling is illegal in China outside Macau, the world's largest gambling hub.
The authorities in the eastern Chinese city of Wenzhou said on Friday their investigation had found Chau formed a junket agent network in the mainland to help citizens engage in offshore and cross-border gambling activities.
Chau also set up an asset management company in the mainland to help gamblers to make cross-border fund transfers, the Wenzhou City Public Security Bureau in the coastal city in Zhejiang province said on its Weibo account.
Chau and Suncity could not be reached by phone for comment, and did not immediately respond to e-mail inquiries.
GGRAsia, a news outlet on the Asia casino industry, quoted a Suncity spokesman as saying by e-mail early on Saturday that "all businesses are normally operating in accordance with the law and under the supervision of the Macau Special Administrative Region Government".
Suncity's publicly listed entity in Hong Kong, Suncity Group Holdings, does not include its junket operations.
The Wenzhou authority said that as at July last year, the "crime syndicate" led by Chau had 199 shareholder-level agents, more than 12,000 gambling agents and over 80,000 punter members.
"The amount of money involved was exceptionally large, seriously damaging our country's social management order," the security bureau said. "The security authorities urges (Chau) to surrender himself as soon as possible, in order to get a lenient treatment."
Mr Jeremy Douglas, South-east Asia and Pacific representative for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, told Reuters that Chau's arrest warrant is no doubt sending shockwaves through organised crime in Hong Kong and Macau, but also Cambodia, Laos and the Philippines.
Mr Douglas said Suncity has been linked to major drug traffickers and money laundering for many years.
Chau has grown Suncity from operating a high-roller table in Wynn Macau's casino in 2007 to a sprawling conglomerate with thousands of employees and businesses ranging from property to autos.
In 2019, Suncity was singled out by state-backed Chinese media, which attacked online gambling for causing what it described as great harm to China's social economic order. Suncity said it did not operate any online gaming at the time.