What’s really being played out at the Champ de Mars? Those in the know suggest that there is more to the ongoing and long-drawn tug of war between the Mauritius Turf Club (MTC), the traditional horse-racing organiser,and the Gambling Regulatory Authority (GRA) than what meets the eye. There would be an underhand ploy being employed to make the MTC irrelevant in the horse racing business and set the ground for its eventual replacement or take-over by businessmen who have an interest in horse racing and the associated betting business which are undisputed cash cows. It is alleged or suspected that such a conspiracy is being driven by known financial backers close to the highest spheres of power but that remains to be proved.
The MTC itself has not helped in the present circumstances it finds itself today. Set up as a small private club to which was devolved the responsibility of sole organizer of horse racing in Mauritius by the colonial authorities since 1812, it has no doubt made significant progress from the days when it was considered to be the preserve of the wealthier sections of society to become more representative of our rainbow nation. As the economy and black monies grew, there were regularly expressed doubts about illegal activities, including money-laundering, that go together with the horse racing and associated betting business although, it should be emphasised, these might not be organised or condoned by the Club itself.
An earlier commission of inquiry on horseracing in Mauritius set up in September 2014 by the Labour-PMSD government, withRichard Parry as Commissioner to chair the inquiry, and two fellow Commissioners, Dennis Gunn and Paul Scotney,came out with a damning report which highlighted several parties connected to the local horseracing environment involved in illegal activities. It referred to “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’.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.
The inquiry’s report also made mention of untraceable incomes from the betting of substantial sums on the illegal market, and according to certain witnesses before the Commission, would be the size of the legal market. These unrecorded illegal bets were seen as “a ready vehicle for cheating and other forms of corruption”. In view of the above, the Commission recommended urgent actions to restore confidence in horseracing in Mauritius. We doubt if anything of the sort has been initiated to this day, except for the setting up of the GRA, which seems to be more visible in controversies than in cleaning up the stables.
It is recognised by international institutions that horseracing, betting and gambling constitute one of the main hubs which would be facilitating the laundering of ill-gotten gains. Cases are coming up regularly in public involving persons having exaggerated lifestyles despite officially having only modest earnings. Many are saddled with huge amounts of unexplained wealth. The suspicion is that drugs and inflated property prices would be the explanation behind this publicly emerging phenomenon. 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 latest bout in the tussle between the MTC and the GRA, has culminated this week in the unilateral termination by the city’s Municipal Council, ‘under instruction from the Ministry’, of the MTC’s privilege to use the Champ de Mars for horse-racing when its contract ran to 2028. Without being legal minds or holding a brief for any party. It looks likely that this promises another lengthy court disputation of the Betamax variety, where the population has had ultimately to bear the costs of some Rs 6 billion in compensation and damages. There are immediate concrete consequences of the termination such as employee fate, race-tracks, stables, horses and their regular training to look after when there would be no accruing revenues.
Beyond these, the population is left wondering whether all the controversies and the GRA-driven policies will do any good to horse racing in the country and promote it as an attraction that would do justice to its long-held ambitions of creating a world-classhorse racing and leisure industry. As for the possibility that cannot be ruled out of consequential damages being slapped on the GRA or Municipal Council, the public may feel particularly aggrieved to foot such bills again.
Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 29 April 2022
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