Seven people – six men and a woman – are to appear in court in New Zealand today charged with race fixing after police raids on ten stables yesterday.
Two of the seven arrested face charges of possessing and supplying drugs.
The raids and subsequent arrests overnights have thrown New Zealand’s harness racing industry into turmoil, with search warrants being executed on ten stables being searched and some of the industry’s leading figures being questioned in a race fixing inquiry.
On Tuesday police from New Zealand’s elite National Organised Crime Unit raided ten stables, eight of them around Christchurch, the heart of the harness racing industry – and seized computers and mobile phones.
The head of the operation, code named Operation Inca, Detective Superintendent Tim Anderson told media the raids with search warrants followed a 17 month investigation into race fixing and doping which began with information supplied by the racing industry’s Racing Integrity Unit, an independent statutory body which acts to monitor and police the racing industry.
“Today’s warrants were the result of a long running investigation by the National Organised Crime Group (of the NZ Police) into alleged corruption within the harness racing industry,” Mr Anderson said.
There were two lines of inquiry: the main one is whether there has been collusion among trainers and owners to affect the outcome of races for either gambling profit or for the stake money involved.
The second involves the use of performance enhancing drugs which are generally banned in racing although some may be legally used elsewhere.
Police have spoken to several high profile harness racing identities including New Zealand’s leading rider Blair Orange who has driven 232 winners for the season.
Late yesterday the head of the operation Detective Superintendent Tim Anderson said no arrests had been made so far but he was expecting arrests today and later this week.
Police have not named the identities spoken to today, or given details of the money involved in their inquiries.
The investigation and the raids have come as a major shock to the industry which, like the country, has prided itself on being free of corruption.
The Minister of Racing, Winston Peters, confirmed that he was aware of the inquiry before he released a report which recommended far reaching changes to all aspects of the racing industry last week. He said the matter was “deeply disappointing,” but referred to “the actions of one small group.”
Harness races are scheduled for Wednesday and Friday this week, and so far, the racing clubs involved intend to proceed, and the TAB, the country’s sole legal off course betting agency, has said that it will be business as usual.