O'Brien premises raided

CATHIE BELL
Last updated 07:58 25/02/2013

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Two Marlborough premises were raided last week as part of a nationwide investigation into alleged manipulation of gaming machine grants.

Blenheim accountant and well-known racing figure Patrick O'Brien confirmed on Friday that he and his son Michael had been visited by the police with search warrants.

"Us and several other places. That's possibly right . . . They did call here. I have no further comment."

He said he had heard that several gaming trusts and other places in the North Island had also been raided.

Mr O'Brien said he was surprised to have been raided, but said he did not want to comment further on it as he had nothing to do with it.

He said he thought it was unlikely anyone would want to comment further on it, as it was subject to possible litigation.

The Department of Internal Affairs, which administers gaming machines, confirmed this week that search warrants have been executed as part of an ongoing investigation into alleged manipulation of gaming machine grants. The operation also involved the Serious Fraud Office (SFO).

Department spokeswoman Sue Ingram declined to say how many warrants had been executed in Marlborough.

"That's not the sort of detail being released."

Department gambling compliance director Debbie Despard said the investigation was a significant joint-agency undertaking.

"The Department of Internal Affairs has responsibility to ensure the integrity of the grants system in pokie machine gambling.

"The wider community is disadvantaged if one group can gain preferential access to grant funding from gambling proceeds.

"Where the department finds serious, harmful, and deliberate non-compliance in the gambling sector we will hold people to account. Our ability to do this is enhanced by drawing on the specialist resources of the SFO."

Information was still being gathered and the investigation was ongoing. The department would continue to assess any further information it receives in the wake of today's action, Ms Despard said.

"In the meantime, the department will make no further comment on the current investigation."

The Marlborough Express was told the Organised and Financial Crime Agency New Zealand had asked Blenheim police to carry out some warrants on Thursday and the police had assisted them.

The agency is a specialist organisation within the police that focuses on organised crime. This has included gangs and Asian crime in the past.

No-one in the agency was available for comment yesterday, and the Department of Internal Affairs spokeswoman could not confirm the agency's role.

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Mr O'Brien's son, Michael O'Brien, is to appear in the Blenheim District Court on Wednesday on a charge of making a false statement with intent to deceive, in relation to a statement he made in 2009 about his involvement in Bluegrass Holdings. That charge was laid in the middle of last year, and Michael O'Brien has said he would vigorously defend himself.

Bluegrass Holdings is the operating name of the Bluegrass Trust which operates gaming machines in Blenheim, Nelson, Wellington and other places.

Its gaming licence was revoked by the Department of Internal Affairs in August, saying an investigation found the trust had supplied false or misleading information about three loans used to establish the trust and that it had knowingly received funds with conditions attached from potential grant recipients.

 

- The Marlborough Express

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