Some prominent New Zealand harness racing identities caught up in the police race-fixing probe are trying to avoid a criminal conviction on non-race related charges, while other charges have been dropped, it's been revealed today.
Widespread suppression orders mean that for now their names still remain a secret while their cases go through the judicial system. Some who have been denied name suppression by a district court judge have appealed the decision to the High Court which will hear their cases next month.
Today at Christchurch District Court, two people had their cases put off for the diversion scheme for first offenders to be considered – a chance to avoid a formal court prosecution. One of them also had two charges - unrelated to race-fixing – dropped.
Another person arrested over the 18-month Operation Inca investigation by the National Organised Crime Group denied four charges – again not race-fixing related – and elected through defence counsel James Rapley QC to stand trial by jury.
A fourth person denied five non-racing charges and also elected to face a jury trial.
They will all be back in court on March 25, when another nine harness racing figures arrested after Operation Inca will appear for a Crown case review hearing.
The charges came after raids on multiple stables and properties in Canterbury, Invercargill, Manawatu and Auckland late last year.
In December, a male driver in his 50s was charged with conspiring with another person to manipulate a race result last year by "administering a substance" to a horse before the race "in order to gain a pecuniary advantage, namely the winning stakes". He denied the charge and elected trial by jury.
North Canterbury trainer Andrew Douglas Stuart, 42, faces four race-fixing allegations, while Graham Henry Beirne, a 71-year-old Christchurch man, has previously denied two race fixing charges and is yet to enter a plea on a third charge.
A 40-year old Canterbury man denies three race-fixing charges and is yet to enter pleas on three unrelated drugs charges.
Three other men – aged 50, 35 and 26 – deny race-fixing allegations, as does Palmerston North man Brent Stephen Wall, 47, and 44-year-old Rolleston-based horse trainer Nigel Raymond McGrath.
Others face drugs charges that their lawyers say is unconnected to the horse racing investigation, including Elie Sawma, a 42-year-old Christchurch hairdresser charged with supplying the Class B controlled drug MDMA, possession of MDMA, and offering to supply the Class A drug cocaine.