Posted on: November 28, 2023, 08:35h.
Last updated on: November 28, 2023, 09:01h.
The developer behind a controversial casino resort project on the US Commonwealth island of Saipan has been designated the “head of a criminal syndicate” by a court in China.
Ji Xiaobo, whereabouts unknown, controls Imperial Pacific International (IPI), along with his mother, Cui Lijie. Since 2016, IPI has been building a gaudy, rococo gaming palace — currently paused — on Saipan, the largest island of the Northern Marianas Islands in the northwest Pacific Ocean.
The project has been beset by a grim catalog of labor violations, missed deadlines, lawsuits, and federal corruption charges. IPI has now run out of cash and owes more than $100 million to the Commonwealth Casino Commission (CCC) in licensing and regulatory fees.
Use of Violence
On November 24, the Beijing Municipal First Intermediate People’s Court accused Ji of several criminal acts, including using violence and threats to collect illegal gambling debts and illegally invading homes, according to Singapore’s 8World News.
The court sentenced 15 members of Ji’s organization to prison terms ranging from eight years and six months to one year and eight months. The toughest sentence was reserved for Cui Limei, Ji’s aunt and Cui Lijie’s sister.
Many of the charges relate to Ji’s operation of the Hengsheng Group, a Macau junket business that started out in 2011 running a single VIP room with 12 tables at Star World Hotel.
This was during Macau’s boom years, and by 2013, the operation had grown to seven VIP rooms and 86 tables, according to The Macao News.
The court also found that from 2008 to 2021, the organization opened casinos overseas many times to “obtain illegal benefits.”
Ji on the Lam
Ji is believed to have turned his attention to Saipan after Beijing cracked down on Macau’s junket industry in 2014 as part of President Ji Jinping’s anti-corruption drive. That year, IPI won the bid for Saipan’s sole casino license, which granted it gaming exclusivity on the island for 40 years.
The license was suspended indefinitely in April 2021 by the Northern Mariana Islands’ Supreme Court because of IPI’s failure to pay its annual license fee.
Ji, who hasn’t been seen in public for more than two years, is being sought by Chinese authorities. Asian Gaming Brief reported rumors this week that he’s hiding in Tokyo.
The former junket operator became regional tabloid fodder because of his relationship with Taiwanese actress and model Pace Wu, with whom he has children. In the past, the couple was happy to flaunt their wealth to the media, which included the installation of two crystal dragons in their home, reportedly worth US$130 million.
Ji is the latest junket tycoon to face criminal charges, following the convictions in Macau of the industry’s biggest operators, Alvin Chau of the Suncity Group and Levo Chan of Tak Chun Group. In January, Chau was sentenced to 18 years in prison for illegal gambling and criminal association. Chan received a 14-year prison term in April after facing similar charges.