Danger money in Hong Kong
Australian jockey Chris Munce has found himself embroiled in an alleged tips-for-bets scam in Hong Kong racing. Chris Bassani
July 15, 2006
THREE Australian jockeys will arrive in Hong Kong next month for their crack at racing's mecca.
Michael Cahill, Danny Nikolic and Nicholas Ryan can't wait to start riding for riches, knowing that two good seasons there could set them up financially for life. But they will also know the former colony has its pitfalls.
They can ask any number of high-profile Australian racing identities – Darren Beadman, Damien Oliver, Gary Moore and David Hayes, to name just some.
Those men can tell of their nerve-wracking brushes with Hong Kong racing officialdom and how their reputations were on the line.
Rumours whipped around Australian racing more than 10 years ago that star jockey Beadman was hung out of a helicopter during his stint in Hong Kong.
The whole episode saw Beadman suffer bouts of depression and thoughts of suicide before he found solace in religion.
Now Chris Munce can tell about his nerves after being embroiled in Hong Kong's latest scandal – that's if anyone can get in contact with the embattled Australian jockey.
Little has been heard from Munce since he was linked to an alleged tips-for-bets scam two weeks ago.
But no news is probably good news.
Racing insiders are astonished the 37-year-old Australian has yet to be charged by the Independent Commission Against Corruption after being arrested. Munce surrendered his passport to ICAC after it alleged he accepted advantages, either directly or through middlemen, from illegal bookmakers and punters for providing tips relating to his mounts.
Investigators alleged that on a number of occasions bets totalling about $HK600,000 ($A102,467) were placed for Munce, who received, or was expecting, dividends totalling about $HK1.6 million ($A273,244).
New speculation suggests the ICAC is more interested in the illegal bookmakers and two middlemen they arrested at the same time as Munce.
Even if ICAC does not charge Munce, the Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC) still could.
If it is proved Munce has provided tips, a riding ban and fine are likely.
Still, virtually no jockey or trainer in the world would knock back an opportunity to compete in Hong Kong.
Its racing is regarded as the cleanest in the world.
HKJC-appointed jockeys are provided with a swish apartment, a maid, luxury car and a basic retainer.
Jockeys get 8 per cent of prizemoney for winning rides, 5 per cent for placed horses and pay about 16 per cent tax. Munce finished third at season end July 2 and earned $450,000 from his cut of prizemoney.
Gratuities from owners are legal and can match what a jockey or trainer has earned during the season.
The biggest legal sling in recent times was the $1.5 million an owner told the trainer and jockey to share after they won an international race.
But Australians have all too often fallen into Hong Kong's scandals.
Twenty years ago Gary Moore, son of renowned Australian rider George, was mixed up in perhaps the biggest.
Moore, now training in Macau, was seven times premier rider in Hong Kong prior to the 1986 Shanghai Syndicate affair. The syndicate fixed races and had links to triads.
The ICAC arrested Moore and 21 others including jockeys, trainers, a HKJC steward, club members and fellow Australian jockeys David Brosnan, Rod Staples and Pat Hall.
Moore failed to declare money unlawfully wagered on his own mounts and approaches made to him in relation to betting and outcome of a race.
He became ICAC's crown witness in return for immunity from prosecution.
The syndicate bought Australian horses and ran them dead (against their merits) before moving them to different trainers in Hong Kong under false ownership prior to landing big plunges with illegal bookmakers.
At trial's end in 1990, Hong Kong businessman Yang Yuan-Loong, dubbed "Mr Fixit", was given a $900,000 fine and a suspended jail sentence after claims he was ill with only weeks to live.
Brosnan was the only person jailed, copping eight months and a riding ban of seven years.
Moore was freed by the commission, but received a worldwide riding ban of four years, courtesy of the HKJC.
Since its inception in 1974, the ICAC has fought race-fixing. Its investigators are the untouchables, a task force of police who answer to nobody.
During '80s and '90s it was common for criminals to make $HK1 million payments to have horses slowed.
More trouble followed in 1990. Two policemen were jailed for receiving tips from jockey Rambo Tse. His payment was favours from a 17-year-old girl. Tse obtained immunity for evidence.
In 1993, Beadman was disqualified for nine months for not riding a horse on its merits. He denied accusations, saying it was just misjudged.
The HKJC was criticised for letting Beadman return to Australia without a full investigation.
In 1996, Tse popped up again when found guilty with peer Andy Ko for slowing horses in a local riders race.
That led the ICAC, in March 1997, to arrest 39 people including Australians – jockey Damien Oliver, trainer David Hayes, racecaller Terry Spargo and TV commentator Jen Chapman.
All were questioned for hours.
Six locals were charged with bribery and illegal bookmaking. One businessman spent three years in jail.
The Australians were quickly released, but Oliver headed home "filthy" on shabby treatment by investigators.
It is common for the ICAC to question people all night. It has a day to charge or release them but can re-arrest a person after five minutes of freedom.
One Australian jockey was left alone in a room for hours with nothing more than a Chinese newspaper.
Over the years, Craig Williams, Mark DeMontfort, Corey Brown and Greg Childs are just some other Australians who rode in Hong Kong and faced questioning from either the ICAC or HKJC.
Former FBI agent Tom McNally is credited, along with the commission, for cleaning up Hong Kong. He was appointed on a five-year contract in 2000 as executive director of security by HKJC and moved on last year.
Despite the Munce case, most believe corrupt elements have no foothold and jockeys and trainers are clean.
Munce's concern is the alleged association with illegal bookies. There are 140 Chinese gambling websites that illegally take bets from Hong Kong gamblers.
Figures bandied about say illegal gambling is costing Hong Kong $HK80 billion a year.
But not all money goes to shady figures. The corner shop bookie is rife in Hong Kong. A bookie could be the hairdresser, cleaner or poorly dressed noodle man.
The reality is that it is not expatriates supporting the illegal system as much as the Chinese themselves.
Trouble in paradise
Australian misdemeanours in Hong Kong over the past 20 years
1986 Shanghai Syndicate affair: Gary Moore – jockey, four-year riding ban
1993: Darren Beadman – jockey, nine-month disqualification for not riding horse on merits
1997: Damien Oliver – jockey, arrested and released
David Hayes – trainer, arrested and released
2000: Greg Childs – jockey, fined $HK300,000 for being overheard talking riding tactics on Sunline
Mark de Montfort – jockey, lasix (diuretic) positive swab
2001: Mark de Montfort - suspended not giving Peaceful Century full opportunity to win. Two-month suspension
2005: Craig Williams - jockey, not giving his mount every possible chance two months suspension
2006: Corey Brown - jockey, swabbed positive to cocaine
Chris Munce - jockey, suspended five weeks not giving First Knight every possible chance. Being investigated in tips for bribe scandal