Jockey to return to Australia under prisoner-transfer deal

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 September, 2007, 12:00am


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Chris Munce to complete his sentence in a Sydney jail

Disgraced jockey Chris Munce will be allowed to return to Australia to serve out the jail term he received for his role in a tips-for-bets scandal.

An agreement is understood to have been brokered between Hong Kong and the federal and New South Wales state governments, which will see Munce sent to a minimum- security prison in Sydney.

The deal has been negotiated secretly over the past three months with the final hitch - who would pay the estimated A$10,000 (HK$64,000) cost for two prison officers to escort Munce back to Australia - only resolved in the past few days.

The New South Wales government refused to pay, believing it was an inappropriate use of taxpayers' money. It is understood the money has been raised by family friends and forwarded to Hong Kong.

Munce, 37, was imprisoned for 21/2 years in March for his involvement in the betting scandal, uncovered by the Independent Commission Against Corruption during the 2005-06 racing season, when Munce finished third in the jockeys' premiership.

Senator David Johnston, Australia's minister for justice and customs, and New South Wales Justice Minister John Hatzistergos negotiated the transfer. Australia has a treaty with Hong Kong for prisoner transfers, which came into force in April last year.

Mr Hatzistergos said last month he was influenced in making a decision in Munce's favour as he believed the jockey had more chance of rehabilitation if allowed to serve the rest of his jail term closer to his family.

'These considerations are especially apparent in this case,' he said.

A Security Bureau spokesman said he would not comment on individual applications.

Jockey Club chief stipendiary steward Jamie Stier said the club had been trying to gain access to Munce before news of the deal broke and was still hoping to interview him before he leaves Hong Kong.

'It's all a matter of access [to Munce],' Mr Stier said of a Jockey Club inquiry, which has been on hold since Munce was initially arrested in July last year.

'If we are able to gain access to Chris Munce, we will reconvene the inquiry as soon as practicable.'

He would not rule out the possibility of stewards flying to Sydney to interview him.

If found guilty of betting offences under the Jockey Club's racing rules, Munce could face disqualification from holding a licence for two to five years, with the ban being effective worldwide.

Munce's wife, Cathy, was still refusing to respond to media inquiries yesterday.

A family friend said Mrs Munce was terrified of inadvertently saying something to upset the Hong Kong authorities and cause them to reverse their apparent decision to allow her husband to return to Australia.

With no income for 14 months and having met legal expenses understood to be about HK$4.5 million, Mrs Munce and the couple's three children are said to be under financial duress.

A fund-raising lunch to help the family - an invitation-only affair with 200 guests - has been planned for a Sydney restaurant on September 21.