Saipan casino workers protest for payment as FBI cites illegal labour

HONG KONG, April 14 (Reuters) - More than 50 construction

workers hired for a casino resort on the Pacific island of

Saipan staged a street protest on Friday demanding to be paid,

after their employer was charged with illegally importing

Chinese workers on tourist visas.

The Chinese workers, who entered Saipan on tourist visas and

are not allowed to work, demanded that casino contractor MCC

International Saipan, a unit of state-owned Metallurgical

Corporation of China Ltd, pay them wages, said eye witnesses.

"MCC return my hard earned money," read a protest banner,

according to a Facebook live update. The Facebook videos could

not be verified independently by Reuters.

MCC did not respond to a request for comment.

"No passports. No work. No money," said local legislator Ed

Propst, who observed the protests.

Hong Kong-listed Imperial Pacific operates the

Best Sunshine Live casino in Saipan. MCC is one of the

contractors engaged to complete construction of the casino

resort.

"Imperial Pacific International is strongly reiterating that

it does not condone the hiring and or employment of individuals

by illegal means," the company said in an email to Reuters.

"Imperial Pacific International is emphatic in its request

to all of its contractors and subcontractors to follow all local

and federal labor and immigration laws and regulations in the

conduct of its business, including and in particular, the hiring

of construction workers."

MCC, together with Beilida Overseas (CNMI) Ltd, were charged

by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on April 3

with illegally importing and employing Chinese workers,

including one who died in March, court documents showed.

Saipan is part of the Northern Mariana Islands and has been

controlled by the United States since the end of World War Two.

Its cash-strapped government approved a casino in 2014,

after which Chinese investment has skyrocketed and Chinese signs

and business have mushroomed across the island.

Since Imperial Pacific opened a temporary casino on the

island under two years ago, its revenues have wildly

outperformed the top casinos in Macau in spite of China’s battle

to stop capital flight.

Scrutiny of the new Saipan casino project has intensified

after the death of a construction worker in March and an FBI

raid in April that found a list of more than 150 undocumented

workers in a contractor's offices, as well as a safe containing

several thousand dollars in U.S. currency, several hundred

Chinese yuan and employee pay stubs.

Imperial told Reuters in April that it had paid construction

contractors "requisite fees for processing needed applications

for workers to work on the construction problems".

The company said it opened its new casino on March 31 but

the attached resort remains unfinished with equipment strewn

across the workplace. There has been a slew of more than 100

work-site injuries from fractures to crushings in the past year,

volunteers helping the injured told Reuters.

(Reporting by Farah Master, Additional reporting Shanghai

newsroom; Editing by Michael Perry)