Champion racehorse owned by conman Peter Foster to be stripped of prize money
|Champion racehorse owned by conman Peter Foster to be stripped of prize money - 21st Dec 2016|
Champion racehorse owned by conman Peter Foster to be stripped of prize money|
Australian racing authorities are set to strip champion mare Azkadellia of more than $1.5 million in prize money and are expected to impose bans on a prominent Victorian racing figure over claims heconcealed ownership of the horse on behalf of serial fraudster Peter Foster.
Ben Connolly, racing manager for prominent Victorian trainer Ciaron Maher, nominated himself as the sole owner of Azkadellia in August 2015 but is understood to have funnelled more than $500,000 in prize money to Foster over a six-month period this year.
It is understood the payments were made to an ING Bank account linked to Foster, who was first convicted of insurance fraud in 1983 and has since served prison sentences in the US, Britain, Vanuatu and Australia.
Mr Connolly is understood to have confirmed his role in Foster's latest scam during an interview with Racing Victoria's integrity unit in September.
Azkadellia is estimated to be worth up to $2 million after winning races in Victoria, NSW and Queensland, but the horse's value would plummet if stewards disqualified the five-year-old mare.
The horse was originally bought in 2014 from Ciaron Maher Racing for $280,000 with money siphoned from Foster's failed online gambling business Sports Trading Company.
Mr Maher also faces an anxious wait as stewards prepare to hand down the findings of a three-month probity investigation.
He and Mr Connolly could not be reached for comment on Sunday.
In September, Racing Victoria's integrity unit interviewed private investigator Ken Gamble, who provided information about Mr Foster's involvement in Victoria's racing industry, which had been concealed by three different proxy owners or "fronts" over more than two years.
Azkadellia was originally registered in the name of Arabella Racing Pty Ltd, which was formerly owned by a Hong Kong company controlled by Foster's niece Arabella Foster, 30, who works as a fashion designer in Brisbane.
On August 31, 2014, Ms Foster completed a declaration that Arabella Racing Pty Ltd was the owner of the horse.
But as suspicion mounted that she was providing a front for her notorious uncle, ownership of Arabella Racing Pty Ltd was transferred to a company owned by Canadian man Thomas Sebastian Cain.
In February 2015, Mr Cain completed a transfer-of-ownership form and declared to racing authorities that he was the new owner of Azkadellia.
But he failed to declare that he was formerly known as Matthew Thomas Reed, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison in 2007 after being convicted of smuggling cocaine and ecstasy valued at $211 million into Queensland from British Columbia.
Mr Cain is believed to have met Foster when they were both incarcerated at Brisbane's Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre and later became involved in the Sports Trading Company, which defrauded more than 340 investors of more than $29 million.
On August 25, 2015, Mr Cain completed a transfer of ownership to Mr Connolly, who paid just $60,000 for the Group 1 winning horse.
Private investigator Ken Gamble said the sale was a "deliberate and covert attempt to deceive Racing Victoria and to conceal Foster's beneficial interest in the racehorse".
Mr Gamble said the sale price of $60,000 for a horse that was bought only 12 months earlier for $280,000 and went on to win $1,588,708 in prize money was "substantially less than fair market value."
After meeting with Mr Gamble in September, Racing Victoria reopened an investigation of the bona fides of Azkadellia, which was banned from all racing until stewards concluded their inquiry.
Foster immediately tried to offload the horse and is believed to have been offered $1.4 million by Caulfield Cup winning owner Col McKenna.
However, the deal is understood to have fallen over when Foster refused a request for a 30-day cooling-off period and Mr McKenna insisted any deal would be conditional on Racing Victoria removing the racing ban imposed on Azkadellia.
An associate of Foster and director of New Zealand Bloodstock Brokers, Hilton Cook, recently claimed he had agreed to buy Azkadellia for $2 million.
In a bizarre press release on December 8, Mr Cook took issue with chief steward Terry Bailey over public statements he made about the investigation into Azkadellia's ownership during a radio interview.
"Our lawyers have advised Racing Victoria that they are referring the matter to the Victorian Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission," Mr Cook warned in the press release.
An IBAC spokeswoman would not confirm if the matter was under investigation, but the claims are believed to be a hoax.
Queensland Police recently issued a warrant for Foster's arrest on allegations he threatened to kill his former Gold Coast lawyer.
He has not returned to Queensland since the warrant was issued and is believed to be living near Byron Bay on the north coast of NSW.
Article Courtesy of Fairfax Digital and The Age