New charges in race fixing investigation

Twelve new charges alleging race fixing – including the drugging of a horse – and drug transactions have been laid against people involved in the police’s Operation Inca investigation into the harness racing scene.

One North Canterbury man in his 50s, a driver, appeared at the Christchurch District Court today for the first time as part of the expanding investigation.

He faced one race fixing charge, alleging that a substance was administered to a horse to gain an advantage – the winning stake at a race meeting earlier this year. He is charged with conspiring with one of the other defendants to fix the race.

His court appearance at a review session before Judge Raoul Neave brings the total number of people caught up in the investigation to 13.

The latest charges are against nine people. Four charges allege drug transactions and eight allege race fixing. At least one of the new charges of race fixing was laid as an alternative to an earlier charge, defence counsel James Rapley told the court today.

Some cases are remanded without plea but many now have pleas of not guilty and elections of trial by jury. The cases going to trial are remanded to March 25 for a case review hearing.

A swathe of suppression orders covers eight of the names of those involved, the nature of some charges, and the summaries of facts relating to the race fixing charges.

For four of those involved, name suppression was refused in the District Court, but it has been appealed to the High Court. That appeal hearing was due to be heard next week, but it has now been delayed to February 7.

The cases were called today to progress some of them through to a hearing on January 29, and then most are also arranged to carry on to the case review hearing – the next step in the trial process.

The man who has been newly charged was remanded to March 25 on one race-fixing charge and granted interim suppression until that date, when the issue will be argued if it is to be continued.

One man who was charged in the North Island, Brent Stephen Wall, 47,was remanded straight to the March 25 date when the case was transferred and he did not appear at court in Christchurch for today’s session. He faces a race fixing charge.

Defence counsel Phil Shamy, appearing for Elie Georges Sawma, 42, a Christchurch hairdresser, said his client was not actually part of the Operation Inca investigation, but pre-trial arguments would cover the same issues as other defendants. His case on charges of supplying ecstasy and cocaine has been dealt with at the Operation Inca hearings so far, and he is again remanded to the same case review session in March.

Graham Henry Beirne, 71, of Fendalton, now appears on three race fixing charges, including a fresh charge laid today. He had originally signalled a suppression appeal to the High Court but it did not go ahead, and the order lapsed in October. He is remanded to the case review.

Nigel Raymond McGrath, a 44-year-old horse trainer, of Rolleston, appears on one race fixing charge. He is remanded to the case review.

Andrew Douglas Stuart, 42, or Loburn, now appears on five race fixing charges after two more charges were laid today. He has pleaded not guilty, elected jury trial and all charges have been remanded to the case review hearing in March.

All the defendants are on bail.