SFO, Internal Affairs investigating pokie grant trusts

One of the country's largest pokie grant funders is under investigation by Internal Affairs and the Serious Fraud Office.

Yesterday, Internal Affairs confirmed search warrants had been issued as part of an ongoing investigation into the alleged manipulation of pokie grants.

The joint agency investigation involved the ''specialist resources of the Serious Fraud Office'', gambling compliance director Debbie Despard said in a statement yesterday.

The department declined to release further details on the investigation, while the Serious Fraud Office referred questions back to the department.

The Otago Daily Times understands computers were seized as part of a raid. The investigation allegedly involves the New Zealand Community Trust and the Bluegrass Trust.

New Zealand Community Trust chief executive Mike Knell confirmed to the ODT the trust had been contacted by Internal Affairs and the Serious Fraud Office, ''who are investigating a number of lines of inquiry around the distribution of gaming machine funds''.

The trust did not believe it was the subject of the investigation.

''New Zealand Community Trust will continue to assist both agencies with their investigation and supports any and all measures to ensure that the distribution of gaming machine funds is undertaken within the law.''

He declined to comment further until the investigation was completed.

According to its website, NZCT returned nearly $230 million to authorised purposes since it was formed in 1998.

Bluegrass Trust chief executive Roebyna Bak, of Blenheim, declined to comment when contacted yesterday.

Both trusts have been significant funders of amateur sport, community groups and horse racing, particularly southern racing interests.

Last year, the ODT reported the Bluegrass Trust was the biggest pokie funder of the southern racing industry, despite having no pokie venues in Otago and Southland.

- hamish.mcneilly@odt.co.nz

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