Wenzhou, a city in eastern China, has issued an arrest warrant for Macau junket mogul Alvin Chau, accusing him of operating gambling activities in mainland China.
Chau is the founder of Macau's biggest junket operator, Suncity, which 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 the special administrative region of Macau, the world's largest gambling hub, reports Reuters.
An investigation found that Chau formed a junket agent network in the mainland to help citizens engage in offshore as well as cross-border gambling activities, the Wenzhou City Public Security Bureau said on Friday.
Chau also set up an asset management company in the mainland to help gamblers to make cross-border fund transfers, the authority in coastal city in Zhejiang province said on its Weibo account.
Chau and Suncity could not be reached by phone for comment, and they did not immediately respond to email requests for comment.
GGRAsia, a news outlet on the Asia casino industry, quoted a Suncity spokesperson as saying by email early on Saturday that the company had contacted Chau and had not received a response.
It quoted the company as saying it is "following up on the relevant issues. The company hereby emphasises 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 Ltd, does not include its junket operations.
The Wenzhou authority said that as of July 2020, 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 urge (Chau) to surrender himself as soon as possible, in order to get a lenient treatment."
Jeremy Douglas, Southeast Asia and Pacific representative for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, told Reuters, "Chau's arrest warrant is no doubt sending shockwaves through organised crime in Hong Kong and Macau, but also Cambodia, Laos and the Philippines.
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.