Christchurch-based harness racing chief criticises corruption inquiry

Photo: File image
Photo: File image
Harness Racing New Zealand’s top administrator has criticised the police investigation into corruption in the industry.

Gary Woodham.
Gary Woodham.
Gary Woodham, the Christchurch-based HRNZ chief executive, expressed his frustration with the undercover National Crime Group inquiry – known as Operation Inca – in a podcast on Australian sports radio network SENZ.

Most of the charges laid during Operation Inca have either been dismissed in court or withdrawn.

The operation which came to light in 2018 to investigate suspected drug use in the harness racing industry eventually led to 13 defendants nationwide facing charges, which included race fixing and betting.

Undercover officers and covert electronic monitoring and interceptions were used during the operation.

Most of those charged were from Canterbury and included harness racing drivers, trainers and owners.

“I really feel for the participants of our sport that have been through a wringer financially and mentally. The mental strain it is put on them and then this thing gets blown off,” Woodham said in the podcast.

But while almost all of the criminal charges have now gone, the saga is scheduled to return to the district court in Christchurch before Judge Raoul Neave next month, where the Racing Integrity Board might learn if it is able to access police evidence as a means of exploring their own avenues to prosecute.

Individuals who had their charges dismissed and withdrawn continue to engage legal counsel in an attempt to stop the racing industry’s watchdog accessing police evidence which it could use in a racing jurisdiction.

The Star has been told some of the defendants have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees to try and prevent the evidence being handed over to the RIB. If they were found guilty in a racing jurisdiction it could lead to lengthy or life bans from the racing industry.

From the original 13 defendants, three are still before the courts. All defendants, former and the trio remaining, have interim name suppression.

Woodham would not elaborate on his concerns when approached by The Star this week after he told the podcast: “I have asked plenty of questions and had no answers. As it is a police matter we’re not asked for our opinion or given any updates. They don’t  say one word to us, it’s their case, not our case. We’re not seen as anybody who needs to know.”

Woodham told The Star: “I haven’t had anything formal, I know some people have been told there is no future action as they have told me, but again nothing formal from the police or courts.”

Asked for his view on the RIB’s bid to access police information, Woodham would not comment as he was not familiar with that phase of the proceedings. 

“Best I stay away from commenting as I’m not aware,” he said.

RIB chief executive Mike Clement, a former deputy commissioner of police, was also playing a waiting game as the court process drags on.

“We are still waiting for a hearing at which the judge will determine what will come of the material held by the police,” he said.

“The discharged defendants will challenge the release of the information and the judge will decide, however, given the slow progress to date, I do not expect anything soon.”

It is possible the legal argument regarding access will be destined for the High Court.

National Organised Crime Group director, Detective Superintendent Greg Williams, would not comment on Woodham’s concerns when contacted by The Star yesterday.