March 17, 2016 / 11:33 AM / a year ago

Macau court rules Stanley Ho's nephew guilty over prostitution ring

HONG KONG (Reuters) - A Macau court sentenced Alan Ho, the nephew of former kingpin Stanley Ho, to 13 months in prison for helping to facilitate a high-profile prostitution ring in the world's biggest gambling hub, Hong Kong broadcaster RTHK reported on Thursday.

Macau's Court of First Instance convicted Ho on charges of sexual exploitation, but cleared him of charges of founding and leading a criminal organization, RTHK said.

As Ho had already been detained for more than 13 months, he was released immediately.

When contacted by Reuters, the Macau court declined to confirm the sentence, but said it would issue a statement later.

Ho, a former senior executive at Hotel Lisboa, owned by SJM Holdings, the listed arm of his uncle's gaming empire, was arrested in January last year with five associates, in what industry officials saw as a big shake-up in the former Portuguese colony.

He was charged with 90 counts of sexual exploitation and helping to run a well-oiled system in which he benefited from commission payments from the prostitutes working in the hotel.

Prostitution is not illegal in Macau but helping to procure it is.

Officials of Hotel Lisboa and SJM Holdings did not immediately respond to telephone calls and an email from Reuters to seek comment.

Ho's arrest came shortly after Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Macau and urged the casino hub to rapidly diversify away from the gambling industry.

The highly publicized move signaled a new scrutiny of the old order in Macau, where the Ho family had been dominant since the late 1980s.

Stanley Ho, through his family's privately held company Sociedade de Turismo e Diversões de Macau (STDM) and SJM Holdings, presided over much of Macau's development as a casino city, shielded by a four-decade monopoly on gambling.

That lasted until 2001, when the door was opened for U.S. casino moguls Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn.

Alan Ho's trial, begun a year after his arrest, used wire tapped evidence to show he had allegedly controlled 100 rooms between 2013 and 2014, leading to turnover of 400 million patacas a year.

Casino operators have scrambled over the last two years to rebrand themselves as family friendly, offering rides targeted at children and entertainment as well as shopping, spa and dining options.

Reporting by Farah Master, Stella Tsang and Clare Jim; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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