The thing that shocks me most about the guilty pleas from 19 Crown employees in a Shanghai Court today is not the possible sentence of three years’ jail or the admission of guilt – it’s the lack of people prepared to talk about the issue that reveals how sensitive it is.
The fact that 19 employees of an Australian publicly listed company have pleaded guilty of breaking another sovereign nation’s laws should be shocking enough.
Their sentences of between nine and 10 months’ jail, including time served, mean most will be out of prison within four to eight weeks. It will be cold comfort for the families, for the time served.
But, in Australia, there’s a sense of disbelief in the validity of the findings of the Baoshao District Peoples’ Court, which is reported to have a 99 percent record of guilty pleas and decisions.
Some I spoke to were worried about the Chinese legal system, and whether their commentary would jeopardise the sentences of the Crown employees.
Others felt conflicted: Crown is so large and with so many tentacles in Australia – it is one of the largest employers of staff and consultants.
And this is the great lesson for Australian companies and individuals, one that is learnt time and again the hard way by travellers who forget they are no longer at home.
Just because a certain type of behaviour is tolerated in your home country, do not presume you are entitled to act the same way in a foreign nation.
It’s also vital to recognise that – for individuals and companies – political conditions change, sometimes rapidly.
What was accepted last year is not allowed this year. If your method of doing business is seen to contradict the perceived national interest, then things will change.
And this, it appears, is where Crown failed to read the political climate in China correctly.
Crown’s sell-down of its massive casino-resort operation in Macau was also a dilution of its right to partake in China’s gambling industry.
If it was selling its interest in the one part of China where gambling is accepted – though even here, there has been a serious crack-down on Chinese nationals seeking to launder money – then it was less likely authorities would turn a blind-eye to operations on the mainland seeking to take Chinese gamblers direct to Australian resorts.