Harness racing corruption allegations: Legal argument may go to High Court

The Racing Integrity Board’s bid to access police information with a view to prosecuting harness...
The Racing Integrity Board’s bid to access police information with a view to prosecuting harness racing figures already involved in the Operation Inca investigation appears headed to the High Court. Photo: George Heard / NZ Herald
A legal argument governing the Racing Integrity Board’s ability to seek prosecutions related to the police investigation into alleged corruption and drug use in the harness racing industry appears destined for the High Court.

Some Canterbury-based defendants charged during the Operation Inca probe led by the National Organised Crime Group have sought to prevent the transfer of evidence from investigators to the RIB, the industry watchdog.

Operation Inca, a covert surveillance and undercover operation, initially charged 13 harness racing figures in 2018 following an 18-month investigation into race-fixing and the supply of recreational drugs.

Judge Raoul Neave indicated the legal argument may be ruled on by the High Court when updating prosecutors and defence counsel in the district court last Friday.

Neave acknowledged he “parked” the argument when revealing some charges had been discharged.

The dropped counts and those still pending are subject to suppression orders so cannot be detailed but on Friday three drivers, a trio of owners and two trainers had charges either discharged or bids to have charges dismissed declined.

Applications for charges to be dismissed – some on the grounds of insufficient evidence – were lodged under section 147 of the Criminal Procedure Act on May 25, 2020 so the decision-making process has been time consuming. 

Mike Clement.
Mike Clement.
RIB chief executive Mike Clement, a former deputy police commissioner, was philosophical about the prospect of the then Racing Integrity Unit’s application to access police files being handled in the High Court.

“We might be in a holding pattern waiting for those matters to be dealt with. It’s a police prosecution, it’s in a criminal jurisdiction which the RIB has no role in,” he said.

The RIU application was made in 2018 and inherited by the RIB when the RIU and Judicial Control Authority for Racing were superseded by the new body in July last year.

The RIU did succeed in sanctioning a then-rising Canterbury harness racing star in July 2020 after being able to access police evidence.

Matt Anderson was banned for six months by the JCA for supplying the drug ecstasy to other drivers and refusing to supply information to racing investigators about the drug deal.

Anderson had previously been arrested by police in 2018 during Operation Inca and subsequently pleaded guilty to three charges related to the possession and supply of ecstasy.

Judge Neave discharged Anderson without conviction before the RIU laid its charges.

Meanwhile, Canterbury harness racing trainer and junior driver Cam Jones has been charged with administering a substance to a horse on race day after RIB investigators completed a stable inspection at his training base on December 10.

Following the visit, the Jones-trained Johnny Nevits was scratched from that night’s New Zealand Metropolitan Trotting Club meeting at Addington.

Under harness racing rules horses are not allowed to be administered any substance on race day.

A hearing date is yet to be set for Jones to enter a plea.

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