Horse Racing and the Black Economy

In the course of the Private Notice Question of 13th June raised by Xavier Duval, Leader of the Opposition, about the Commission of Inquiry on Horseracing in Mauritius he tabled a document purporting to be the Interim Report from the Commission set up by the preceding government to report on the matter. The Commission, it may be recalled, started its work in November 2014.

According to a recent email addressed to a Senior Adviser of Sir Anerood Jugnauth by one of the two Assessors of the Commission, notably Mr Ben Gunn, it is stated that neither he nor his co-Assessor, Mr Paul Scotney, have been paid dues by the government for the work carried out in this connection.

One would like to think that it is not because the government in place is different from the one which had initially commissioned the Inquiry through the then President of the Republic, that due payment is being withheld. If that were to be the case, it would put into question the regard for law by the perpetual State which engaged the services of the Assessors. From the correspondence, it is noted that the Report was submitted in March 2015 to the Senior Adviser of Sir Anerood Jugnauth and the then Prime Minister by the Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry, Mr Rick Parry.

Further, correspondence shows that the two Assessors were called in subsequently, following a Cabinet decision to this effect in December 2015, to assist in the implementation of the Commission’s recommendations. Their recommendations in this regard were submitted to the Senior Adviser of Sir Anerood Jugnauth on 3rd June 2016 in the form of a Consultants’ Report.

If there are any substantive reasons why payment has not been made since then despite repeated requests by the Consultants, the government should come out to state them. If there are none except employing delaying tactics not to pay, Mauritius is the loser. We have already seen the consequences of unilateral rescinding by the government of the Rick Parry contract as decided by the Arbitral Centre of Singapore. It may not be worth travelling in this direction for the good standing of the country. It may also be noted that the government did not make public the findings of the Commission of Inquiry for reasons unknown.

The Leader of the Opposition has however also tabled a copy of the main findings of the Interim Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Horseracing which, it may be recalled, was chaired by Rick Parry. They are damning against several parties connected to the local horseracing environment. The Commissioners state amongst others that, on the basis of evidence and information received, there would be —

“prima facie evidence that certain persons have committed and continue to commit criminal offences of cheating in horseracing and betting in Mauritius”

“maladministration, bordering on ‘institutional corruption’ within the Mauritius Turf Club (MTC) that perpetuates an environment in which the suspected criminal activity is allowed to flourish”.

Thus, authorisations which should not have been given to certain persons to operate in distinct capacities including involvement in serious conflict of interest situations, influence peddling to change the outcomes of races, employing pressure on those lower down, giving unlawful pecuniary inducements to alter race outcomes, making vulnerable the employment of jockeys to facilitate potential corrupt influence on them of trainers, stable managers, owners and bookmakers.

There would also be generated untraceable incomes from betting substantial sums on the illegal market. Certain witnesses before the Commission would have averred that the size of the illegal betting market in the Champ de Mars would be as big as the legal market. These unrecorded illegal bets are seen as “a ready vehicle for cheating and other forms of corruption”.

Suspect cases of cheating were investigated by those concerned with the horseracing establishment, according to the Commission, without the required rigour and specialist knowledge to bring successful prosecutions. Could this have been deliberately done? It is also suggested in the Interim Report that the Membership of the Mauritius Turf Club would have been orchestrated to ensure that the President of the MTC is able to resist any proposals for change to the existing horseracing mechanism in which he plays a dominant role.

The Interim Report of the Commission goes on to state that it was imperative to act urgently in the matter. That was not only to prevent criminals involved in fixing races from potentially tampering with evidence once they come to know that fingers are pointed against them for potential malpractices. The interim report also draws attention to jockeys having been suspended for riding their horses in strange manner, allegedly under unusual instructions from trainers in certain cases but also seeking personal gain in other cases. The Police des Jeux has also carried out several inconclusive investigations into alleged cases of cheating and courts had to throw out cases brought before them for insufficient evidence. Putting the whole matter to rest eventually, like the exhibition of a storm in a teacup.

“The real victims are the tens of thousands of ordinary punters who are being cheated,” according to the Report.

In view of the above, the Commission recommended the urgent establishment of a specialist criminal investigation team to restore confidence in horseracing in Mauritius. As we know, nothing of the sort has been initiated to this day. One would like to know the reasons therefore. Have dragons not been awakened from sleep at the risk of bringing to light inconvenient facts?

It is clearer now that horseracing is one of the hubs which would be facilitating the laundering of ill-gotten gains. That might have an offshoot in “institutionalised corruption” whereby, as alleged in some quarters, those who are paid to do certain jobs would wilfully turn a blind eye on mischief, to share in gains from deliberate violation of the law. One needs to bear in mind that purchases of horses from abroad involve huge costs. If these are paid for by people not visibly having the means to do so, illicit activity may not be too far behind in the incurring of such expenditures.

Cases are coming up regularly in public involving persons having exaggerated lifestyles despite officially having only modest earnings. One policeman who was caught with a certain amount of drug died, allegedly by strangulating himself, in police cell. This could have stifled the investigation that would have led to discovering its further roots and branches.

All this is a sign of how corruption has invaded and distorted the correct execution of public duties by officials and others. Many are saddled with huge amounts of unexplained wealth. The suspicion was that drugs and inflated property prices would be the explanation behind this publicly emerging phenomenon of drugs. It is becoming clearer that drugs may not be the only factor in this matter; there would be inter-linking among different categories of crimes, fixing of horseracing and illegal betting of huge sums being another such avenue.

The black economy must have discovered numerous ropes with which to manipulate the system to get into undeserved wealth. Ordinary citizens may not see them. They may however gauge who the actors perpetrating unlawful activities would really be. Why do businessmen pay huge amounts to politicians? Is this the end of the matter? Or do they help keep the system perverted so they cannot be impugned when engaging in all sorts of criminal activities? This is not a moral issue. It is about a quick-get-rich society inviting all to indulge in crimes of all sorts to get rich quickly.

M.K.

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