With the Commission of Inquiry on Drug Trafficking report incriminating the Mauritius Turf Club, Weekly speaks to Mukesh Balgobin, former president and suspended member of the MTC, for his take on the matter. Balgobin shares with us how money laundering has crept into the Champ de Mars and the steps taken by the club to try and curb it.
The Lam Shang Leen report on the drug commission has been damning against the Mauritius Turf Club (MTC). As a member who has been suspended from the club, what do you think of this?
The Lam Shang Leen report is indeed not favourable to the MTC and this is not the first time that a report has pointed out the irregularities going on at the turf club. Harish Balgobin in the 1980s also blamed the MTC for a few things and so did the Parry report commissioned by the Labour Party more recently.
We have not seen anything done about that report, have we?
No, because when the new government took power, they claimed that they did not get a copy of the report when former President Kailash Purryag specifically said that he had handed them a copy. So I don’t know.
Today the report is gathering dust in some drawer somewhere. Were there recommendations that could have been useful?
There must have been. (Laughs) Let’s just say there is room for improvement.
Is that another way of saying that there are a lot of messy things happening at the MTC?
(Hesitates) You know, this year alone, there were four horses officially declared as having been doped. Four in two months! Surely something must be done!
Who is responsible for this?
The MTC gives licences to the trainers and all the horses are under the responsibility of the trainers.
But who oversees this whole mess?
Unfortunately, it’s the trainers. It would be good if there is a strong signal that is sent to all the trainers.
Who should send the signal?
The administrators, the board and the general manager.
What strong signal did you send when you were president of the board last year?
Each time we tried to put pressure to end this, there were so many delays due mainly to the lawyers who always said that they were not free. So we could not send timely and strong messages.
The Lam Shang Leen report also pointed out the link between the MTC and money laundering. Is the MTC a first class washing machine?
Gambling houses, casinos etc. are safe havens for people with black money. At the MTC, though we have no proof, we know that a lot of people are laundering money. Sometimes, the results of the races come as a real shock. When a horse which has never won a race and started with the odds of Rs100 for Rs5,000 (implying that the horse is an outsider) and half an hour before the race, the odds start going for Rs300, you realise that something is fishy. This is where the role of the racing steward comes in. It’s his job to call the trainers and jockeys and find out what happened. They cannot sit back and watch the odds go down like that.
What about the Gambling Regulatory Authority (GRA). Don’t they have a role to play in this?
The GRA is not involved with the day-to-day running of the MTC. They are a watchdog for the MTC. For example, in the case of a jockey who was found guilty recently by the MTC and fined Rs30,000, the GRA said that they were not satisfied.
When you fine someone dealing in millions Rs30,000, it sounds like a joke doesn’t it?
Yes. I think the best thing is to suspend a jockey but sometimes the stewards unfortunately convert the sentence into a fine.
But isn’t it the role of the board to oversee all this and draft new policies?
We can overrule if we want…
But you don’t.
Sometimes we do. Last year, we overruled a few decisions taken.
What about the case of the Rs30,000 fine?
I have been suspended. This is a joke because a jockey taking drugs was not suspended, two trainers found guilty because some horses were found to have been doped were not suspended. Instead, I, who was elected by the general assembly, was suspended for four years just because I accused one of my colleagues of lying!
How many members of the MTC are involved in money laundering in your opinion?
I can’t say. We don’t know who is involved in money laundering and who isn’t.
Some photos of you and Navin Kistnah were published in the press. Are you going to tell me that you did not suspect he was involved in fishy business?
When I met him for the first time, I did not know he was involved in drugs. I was just there to offer the cup to the winner, that’s it. It’s afterwards that I realised that he is a big dealer.
There is no background check? People just come in, become members, win and you take photos with them?
This is the problem. You know a lot of people apply to be members of the stable and to own a horse. This is where the problem starts. Once the stable manager is satisfied, he will put a share on the horse. Last year, when I was president, I said we had to keep an eye on these newcomers because there were a lot of new owners coming into the MTC.
As administrators, you watch people coming in, you sell horses to them without asking where the money is coming from and wait for them to be convicted before kicking them out? Don’t you do a background check?
To be honest with you, we don’t.
Isn’t this an open invitation to all shady people to come and launder their money there?
You cannot say that we are inviting these people but, in a way, there is an open door policy. The problem is that if there are no owners there are no races. However, with the Lam Shang Leen report, the MTC should be more cautious about taking on new owners. I hope that the board members are going to do something to protect the people who go to the races.
Those who go to the races are in fact the poor people who have no idea what is going on behind the scenes and who go to the races just to lose their money, while there are some making a huge amount of money out of their excitement. Isn’t that true?
Unfortunately, that is a reality.
So it’s the mafia robbing the poor?
And isn’t it also true the man cheering in the stands doesn’t have a clue about all this?
Yes, families go to the races, gamble a bit and then go home. When people ask me what’s the best time to go to the races, I advise them to go early in the morning, watch the horses in training and decide on the basis on them. Unfortunately, as you say, there is…
… a lot of rigging?
And you were aware of it as chairman of the board, weren’t you?
The problem is that we don’t know who is involved in rigging. There are so many involved in this type of business. The only way to control it is if we stop the bookmakers from operating. There is the tote where the odds change as the bets are placed. This is the only way to go. Many big countries have tried to solve the problem of rigging by stopping the bookmakers.
How realistic is that in Mauritius where many bookmakers openly finance some political parties?
Unfortunately they do.
When you were on the board, you were supervising a game that is rigged, and robbing the poor, where money is being laundered. So what is it that’s so attractive that people fight and make enemies of each other just to sit on the board?
Well, that’s a good question. A lot of good people like to go to the MTC. I was there and I was not happy with the way things were going. I will not tolerate people coming in with fishy money and wanting to buy horses. We have suspended people and jockeys who broke the rules. There have been sanctions taken but to control the Champs De Mars is very difficult.
How does rigging work? Do some people accept for their horses to lose so that they make money?
There are two types of owners. Those like me, who like horses and like to win races. Then there are those who prefer to make money off their horses. So some owners are not happy that their horses win a race because their money was on other horses, not their own. Other horses would give them more money because of the odds.
Do you need a lot of money to be part of this world?
A horse can cost anything between Rs500,000 and Rs1.5 million depending on the type of horse you want. If you want a horse in the top A division, you are talking about something close to Rs1.5 million. If, on the other hand, you want a horse which participates in E division, that will cost you less. There are horses that cost millions. Just like cars, you can drive a Japanese car or a big limousine.
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