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Arrests are likely to be made this afternoon after police raided 10 properties, including a stable in Invercargill, as part of an investigation into race-fixing in the harness racing industry, police confirmed this afternoon.
Meanwhile the New Zealand Herald is reporting New Zealand's champion harness racing driver Blair Orange is one of the people being interviewed by police after the raids.
Orange broke the New Zealand record for wins by a reinsman in a season when he won the national premiership with 232 winners for the season, breaking Dexter Dunn's premiership rein.
National Manager Criminal Investigations Detective Superintendent Tim Anderson said at a media briefing in Christchurch he expected charges would be laid this afternoon and that arrests would be made.
He expected people would appear in court this week.
Police conducted search warrants at eight properties in Christchurch, one in Invercargill and another in Manawatu as part of Operation Inca — an investigation into alleged race-fixing in the harness racing industry, Det Anderson said.
At the briefing he said the investigation began in April last year after information was provided to Racing Integrity Unit (RIU).
He stressed he was keen for anyone with information to come forward.
"I would like to send a clear message today that police take these matters very seriously.
"We are well aware of the potential risk that race fixing and other related activities can have on the integrity of sport.
"We are committed to ensuring that New Zealand sport is corruption free."
He earlier said in a statement police were currently speaking to a number of people.
“Today’s warrants were the result of a long-running investigation by the National Organised Crime Group into alleged corruption within the harness racing industry.
"Police take such allegations very seriously and are committed to working with the relevant bodies to ensure New Zealand sport is corruption-free," Det Anderson said.
The New Zealand Herald said police were believed to have gone to the property of Orange's boss Ken Barron in Canterbury this morning as part of raids at several stables in Canterbury and Southland, while at least one person, including one who is not a horse trainer, has been questioned in Manawatu.
Orange is believed to be speaking to police.
Harness Racing New Zealand chief executive Edward Renell told the Otago Daily Times he was aware of the raids.
"Obviously when the police are involved from an industry integrity point of view it is very concerning," Mr Renell said.
He later said in a statement it had been informed by police and RIU about the investigation.
"The integrity of harness racing is of paramount importance. These allegations are serious and very concerning.
"The IRU and New Zealand Police have Harness Racing New Zealand’s total support in addressing this and ensuring the industry’s integrity is maintained," he said.
As it was now a matter for police he could not comment further.
Police visited the property of champion trainer Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen's All Stars Harness Racing stables at Rolleston just outside Christchurch this morning.
Purdon was not extensively questioned or arrested and is not believed to be a suspect in any of the race-fixing allegations.
He told the Herald that he had not been questioned by police.
"They [police] had a look around here but they weren't that interested in me," he said.
Purdon said he had no issue with them looking over his property.
Racing Minister Winston Peters expressed deep disappointment at the race-fixing allegations .
“This is a sad development. New Zealanders need to have confidence that the racing industry has integrity and is not above the law,” Mr Peters said.
“It highlights how important it is that we have a strong, independent authority like the Racing Integrity Unit to ensure offending behaviour is brought to light. We can have confidence that the system is working.”
New Zealand Racing Board chairwoman Glenda Hughes said allegations of race-fixing were disappointing but showed "the racing integrity system is working".
"The actions taken today resulted from information received by the Racing Integrity Unit (RIU), an independent body charged with maintaining integrity in the sport," she said.
"That information initiated a co-ordinated and careful investigation between NZ Police and the RIU.
"The value of having an independent integrity body focused on investigating and prosecuting any alleged impropriety is reinforced in this action."
Racing Board CEO John Allen said: "Those involved in the industry and the Kiwi punters who support it must have confidence in the integrity of the sport.
"I am confident that our integrity systems work and that where alleged breaches of our rules and of criminal law are identified, they are investigated and prosecuted appropriately."
Anyone with information relevant to the investigation was urged to contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.