Munce jailed 21/2 years for tips for bets
Jockey undermined integrity of racing in HK, says judge
A District Court judge jailed champion jockey Christopher Munce for 21/2 years yesterday after convicting him of trading racing tips with a businessman in return for bets from which he netted nearly HK$1 million in winnings.
Munce, 37, an Australian, is the first jockey to be jailed in Hong Kong for giving tips for bets on horses he was riding.
Judge Kevin Browne found Munce guilty of one count of conspiracy to accept an advantage. The judge ordered the confiscation of a mobile phone and HK$250,000 in cash found in Munce's jeans when he was arrested by Independent Commission Against Corruption officers outside a Kowloon hotel on July 3 after meeting businessman Andy Lau Wai-ching.
Passing sentence, Judge Browne said Munce had breached the 'high degree of trust' required of him and had severely undermined public confidence in the integrity of horse racing in Hong Kong.
Munce's tips were of a high quality, with a success rate of 72 per cent, the judge said. The jockey had tipped horses he rode in 36 races, of which 18 had won and eight were placed.
Munce - barred by Jockey Club rules from placing bets - had pleaded not guilty, denying he conspired with Mr Lau, businessman Dinesh Kumar Daswani and Daswani's uncle Kamal Govindram Daswaney to carry out the betting scam between December 3, 2005, and July 2. Both Mr Daswani and Mr Daswaney testified under immunity. Prosecuting counsel John Dunn had said earlier that the betting arrangement involved Mr Lau placing bets on behalf of Munce, who would receive winnings for supplying tips and riding his mounts to produce the desired outcome.
Mr Daswani, a middleman for Mr Lau and Munce, said about HK$800,000 was paid to the jockey. Mr Daswani had arranged to pass on tips to Mr Lau and took a 30 per cent commission on winnings. The prosecution said Mr Daswaney placed bets for Munce after Mr Lau cut Mr Daswani out of the deal.
Judge Browne said telephone records showed frequent contacts between Munce, Mr Lau and Mr Daswani, and tape recordings of their meetings had proved the rider's involvement in the scam. Munce had used 'trade secrets' to get financial interest from his mounts, the judge said.
Defence barrister John McNamara argued in mitigation that Munce had obtained money by riding race horses to win, not to lose.
'[Munce] did not commit a criminal offence, he only offended the club's regulations by betting on his own mounts,' he said, adding the club had taken no disciplinary action. The Jockey Club said a stewards' inquiry into Munce's arrest in July had been adjourned because of the court proceedings and that the probe would now continue 'at a date and time to be fixed'.
The affair is not the first to rock Hong Kong racing. In 1986, the sport was rocked by its biggest race-fixing scandal, orchestrated by textiles tycoon Yang Yuan-loong. Australian jockey David Brosnan and four local riders were jailed for 18 months for conspiring to cheat the public at gaming.