IPI owner wanted by Chinese government; court documents declare him ‘mafia boss’

The owner of the Saipan casino championed by the former CNMI governor, is wanted by the People’s Republic of China and has been deemed the head of a criminal syndicate by a court in Beijing, according to two news sources that claim to have reviewed Chinese court documents.

The Beijing Municipal First Intermediate People’s Court on November 24 ruled that Ji Xiaobo, the son of former Imperial Pacific International LLC owner Ciu Lijie, established a casino, transported people across the border illegally, accumulated illegal debt, broke into a home, picked quarrels, and provoked trouble, according to both Inside Asian Gaming and Asia Gaming Brief.

“It is believed the charges relate both to his time as an executive of Macau junket Hengsheng Group and as project director for Imperial Pacific International, which ran Imperial Palace • Saipan before it was shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020,” a November 27 report from Inside Asian Gaming states.

According to that story and a same-day article from Asia Gaming Brief, Ms. Ciu’s sister, Cui Limei, was sentenced to spend eight and a half years in prison for operating a casino.

“In this case, Ji Xiaobo was mentioned as the leader of the criminal group. According to the statement, Ji Xiaobo is involved in a separate case,” the AGB story states. “Ji hasn’t been seen in public for more than two years, allegedly hiding in Tokyo. Chinese media believe that the Chinese authorities are still on the hunt for him.”

The Saipan casino is owned by Imperial Pacific International CNMI LLC, which is a subsidiary of IPI LLC. IPI LLC is a Bermuda-based company that is listed in the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, but trading on that market was discontinued in 2022 due to IPI’s debt, labor, and compliance issues.

Mr. Ji and his mother are believed to have started in the gaming industry in Macau, but then moved their business to Saipan following China’s reported crackdown on corruption. They bid for a won Saipan’s exclusive 40-year casino license in 2014.

The company soon began operating its casino, first at a temporary location while a behemoth was built in Garapan, then at its now-shuttered ornate building.

According to several news reports, including IPI’s disclosures to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, the casino at one point had recorded revenue in the billions, at levels exponentially greater than the CNMI’s gross domestic product. The claimed revenue did not match the total transactions Saipan’s banks were reporting for the same periods.

IPI CNMI also failed to pay millions in taxes and fees, leading to the suspension of its casino license. Several civil lawsuits were filed by companies, contractors, and employees for both debt and labor violations.

Then-Gov. Ralph Torres and Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero enjoy the view of a Marianas Southern Airways plane on the tarmac of the Guam International Airport after Torres landed on Guam on MSA’s inaugural flight to the southern island.

The operation was defended and protected for years by the CNMI republican establishment, chiefly by its former governor, Ralph Torres, despite the growing scandal of the company. That scandal culminated with raids in 2019 by the Federal Bureau of Investigation into IPI CNMI’s offices, including its legal office. The FBI that same day raided Mr. Torres’ office and home, and the law firm controlled by his brothers, who were associated with the company.

A ledger of IPI’s vendors surfaced in 2020, showing payments by the casino to hundreds of people and companies linked directly to politicians and even one local newspaper.

A 2017 Reuters article reported about Mr. Ji’s labor woes, after the FBI filed charges in the U.S. District Court of the CNMI related to the illegal importation and employment of Chinese workers, including one who died. The Reuters report was set against the backdrop of an anticipated meeting between then-President Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Florida later that week.

A few months later, Bloomberg published an investigative piece on the maiming and killing of Chinese people who worked on the construction of the Garapan casino. The article by Matthew Campbell also found that millions of dollars were paid to Mr. Torres’ family.

“I believe that Imperial Pacific runs this government,” CNMI House of Representatives member Edwin Propst said in the Bloomberg article.

The Saipan casino operation, Bloomberg reported, had hired a CEO – Mark Brown – who previously ran one of Mr. Trump’s casinos.

In 2019, a Palm Beach Post investigative story reported the CNMI and Guam’s republican establishment were behind a Trump inaugural gala, where funds were raised from IPI and other Chinese donors with ties directly to the Chinese Communist Party.

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