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21 April 2010

Australian Racecourse Super Sharks On And Off The Track, by Greg Tingle - 21st April 2010

It's said that the racecourse is a sunny place for shady characters.

We probe Australian racing down under and learn that shady happenings in racing are certainly not restricted to the race track. Racecorse workers superannuation savings have been left in the lurch. Media Man and Gambling911 crack the whip at Aussie racing which already had plenty of challenges before the latest black mark to hit their green and gold place in the sun...

Australian racing and media identity, Alan Jones, recently spoke of challenges, opportunities and the need for unity at the 33rd Asian Racing Conference in Sydney. Little did he know of a new challenge very much related to the employment and sustainably of Australian racing.

The superannuation earnings of hundreds of racecourse workers have been dragged into in a $123 million fraud that may become the biggest super theft in Australian history... the super fraud equivalent of the Fine Cotton Affair and Great Bookie Robbery. With the world's financial markets in the deep end, some being probed by the Australian and United States government, I guess we shouldn't be surprised. There's no 'Underbelly' hype here friends, just the unfortunate facts surrounding the further downward spiral of the racing and financial services industry.

Tabcorp's New South Wales racecourse casuals wagering workers say they have not been advised how much money they are down after their Astarra Superannuation Fund was frozen by financial regulators in October last year.

A staff member for 33 years, Rosemary Walker, 72, who works at Randwick Racecourse, asks how Tabcorp could have approved Astarra as a suitable company for her superannuation.

"I'm puzzled as to why we started off in a reputable fund when we were with (former employer) AWA and ultimately we finished up in Astarra," she said.

The losses are understood to be in the region of 10,000 superannuation investors after their investments were placed with Albury-based fund manager Trio Capital. Trio
managed more than $400 million in investments including the Astarra Superannuation.

Last Friday New South Wales Supreme Court justice, George Palmer, ruled that a separate offshore hedge fund managed by Trio Capital had all the signs of a "fraudulent scam" as he detailed "inherent vices" in Trio Capital's business model.

The hedge fund entitled Astarra Strategic moved some $123 million in "investments" through the British Virgin Islands using companies based in obscure Caribbean tax havens including Belize, Nevis, St Lucia and Anguilla.

Justice Palmer advised to wind up the scheme and wrote of the matter "If one wants to conduct financial operations dishonestly or illegally - then it is to these jurisdictions that one goes to incorporate puppet companies with puppet directors in order to operate fraudulent schemes and to move money around the world in secrecy.".

As of time of publication regulators have been unable to locate any funds, nor have charges been laid upon perpetrators.

Interestingly, Astarra Super is not the corporate superannuation fund used by official Tabcorp staff.

Tabcorp spokesman, Bruce Tobin, advised the company had written to all staff affected and was working with the union.

Justice Palmer said these sobering words of the matter "that there was a very high prospect that the funds would simply disappear into the ether - as has almost certainly happened in this case".

He said the use of the tax havens had not been disclosed in Trio Capital's statements to investors.

Superannuation losses from Astarra Strategic would represent the largest superannuation fraud or theft since current super laws were put in place 1993.

James Packer 50% owned Betfair will be glad this isn't a mark on their name. The matter may potentially assist seeing additional (quality) companies enter the Aussie racing and financial sector, be it PartyGaming or Virgin. Certainly the current mix is not quite right, based upon the latest scandal. Word of the street is its time for some "new blood" to shake things up and put the old guard and crooks on notice.

It's unfortunate the late 'Big' Tim Bristow and George Freeman of 'Underbelly' fame are not around to sort out these crooks who have attacked everyday Australians. Bristow aka 'Earthquake' would have likely seen them off at what he called 'The See You Later Club', understood to be have somewhere off the heads of Palm Beach on Sydney's northern beaches...something about concrete blocks at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean!

The crooks are not totally off the hook yet... the matter happening to the lifeblood of Australian horse racing is going to put some noses out of joint. Some of those effected are bound to have some very strong industry connections... both on the light side and the dark side. "Fixers" and "Can Do" types are part of the industry, and there's certainly motivation for the out of pocket racing staff to call upon extra powers of persuasion if needed. Add this to the 'Catch Me If You Can' file, already bursting at the seams with Aussie Daniel Tzvetkoff, Canadian Calvin Ayre, and Yankee Howard Lederer jockeying for position. All good fodder for an Australian and international themed version of 'Underbelly'. Ya wouldn't be dead for quids. Good hunting and happy punting.

*Greg Tingle is a special contributor for Gambling911

*Media Man is primarily a media, publicity and internet portal development company

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