Inquiry into pokie grants looks likely to hit home

CATHIE BELL
Last updated 11:30 10/12/2013

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Marlborough people are believed to still be under investigation as part of a joint government agency operation into gaming machine grants.

The Department of Internal Affairs confirmed this week that key individuals in Operation Chestnut had been interviewed as part of an ongoing investigation into the alleged manipulation of gaming machine grants.

The investigation is being carried out by the Serious Fraud Office, Organised Financial Crime Agency of NZ and the Department of Internal Affairs.

Department director of gambling compliance Debbie Despard said the investigation was the largest investigation in the history of the gambling sector.

"More than 100,000 documents are being examined and material is still being collated."

The investigation was not expected to finish until the first half next year, and after that, the "full range of prosecution and licensing sanction" would be considered.

She said "key people of interest" had been identified and were interviewed this week and other interviews may follow.

The Marlborough Express understands that group included some people from Marlborough, but a department spokeswoman would not comment on who and where the "key people of interest" were.

Ms Despard said the department expected those in the gambling sector to be accountable, responsible and act within the law.

"The integrity of the pokie grants system is essential to prevent any group gaining unlawful advantage over grant funding, which deprives genuine community groups of obtaining grants for their legitimate causes."

Information was still being gathered and the investigation was ongoing.

In the meantime the department, SFO and OFCANZ would make no further comment.

In March, the Express reported that Marlborough gaming machine operator Bluegrass Trust was being investigated as part of the joint operation.

The trust's offices and the homes of at least two people previously associated with the trust had been searched by Marlborough police on February 21 as part of the investigation.

Public documents show Bluegrass approved $2.97 million of grants between April 2011 and March 31 last year.

Horse racing clubs were the most common grant recipients, with grants made to about 30 clubs.

Grants were also made to other sports clubs, schools and charities.

The department suspended Bluegrass Trust's gambling licence in July last year, claiming it had breached the Gambling Act in three main areas, including by agreeing to give grants in exchange for loans.

The trust has appealed the decision. 

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- The Marlborough Express

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