Chopra hit with race-fixing charge after offering bribes to jockey Heffernan
12:26 GMT, 4 October 2012
Ipswich striker Michael Chopra has been charged with race-fixing by British Horseracing Authority.
The former England Under 21 man, who has played for Sunderland, Newcastle and Cardiff, is charged with offering bribes to jockey Andrew Heffernan, and 'conspiring to commit a corrupt or fraudulent practice' following an investigation into suspicious betting activity that focused on nine races between November 1 2010 and March 31, 2011.
He is alleged to have conspired with Nottingham Forest midfielder James Coppinger, 31, and former Manchester United and England Under 21 international Mark Wilson, 33, who is currently without a club after recently being recently released by Oxford.
Race run: Michael Chopra (left) has been charged with race-fixing by the BHA
The soccer players, along with all the other unlicensed individuals, are charged with placing bets and/or causing one or more other Betting Exchange account holders to place bets on horses Heffernan rode after receiving inside information directly or indirectly from the jockey.
Chopra, the most high-profile of the trio of footballers, has a history of gambling problems and on 28 August 2008 it was announced that he had checked into a rehabilitation clinic including some time at the Sporting Chance clinic.
READ THE BHA STATEMENT
The British Horseracing Authority released this full statement relating to the charges
He was re-admitted to the same clinic for three weeks in October 2011. On 14 December 2011 it was announced that Ipswich Town had given Chopra 250,000 to help pay off his gambling debts.
Chopra has previously claimed to have lost 1million gambling.
Speaking in November 2011, he said: 'Your first bet's your worst bet. As the years have come along and I've earned more money I've started to gamble more.
'I was gambling up to 20,000 a day at times. As soon as I'd step over the white line I would focus on football – but as soon as I got to the dressing room I would check my phone to see if I'd won.
'As a gambler you want to be playing to get the appearance money. I was playing through injury to cover a debt.'
Wilson is also charged with offering a bribe to Heffernan.
Charged: Footballers Mark Wilson (left) and James Coppinger (right)
Heffernan, 24, who has only achieved moderate success in this country, last rode in Britain in August 2011. He is licenced to ride in Australia and believed to be working in New South Wales.
He rode all nine horses in question but faces the most serious charge of deliberately failing to obtain the best possible placing on three of them. It is an offence that carries a maximum suspension of 25 years.
With no date yet set for the hearing it will be up to the NSW racing authorities to decide whether they suspend Heffernan’s licence pending the final outcome6.
The unlicenced individuals involved face charges that could see them excluded from the sport for up to 10 years.
One of them, Paul Lambert, is a former employee of trainer Alan McCabe who is accused of illegal betting while on his stable register.
The races where Heffernan is accused of not trying to obtain the best possible placings are:
Wanchai Whisper, a 9-2 chance trained by Peter Hedger, finishing two and a quarter lengths second to Black Baccara in the Fred and Ron Gibson Memorial Handicap at Lingfield on January 28, 2011. The Racing Post analysis of the race noted that the runner-up started slowly and ‘her rider seemed at pains not to get after her until the last possible moment’.Gallantry, an 11-1 chance trained by Jane Chapple-Hyam, who was sixth of eight to Advertisement in the Betdaq Mobile Apps handicap at Kempton on the February 2, 2011. He started at 11-1 and was held up and soon detached before making late progress. After the race, Heffernan reported Gallantry had lost his action.Silver Guest, who was ninth and last in the Ashurst Wood Classifield Clainming Stakes at Lingfield on February 9 , 2011. The 9-1 shot, trained by Ralph Smith, was steadied at the start and held up and suffered a fatal heart attack after the race.
Commenting on the charges, Paul Scotney, Director of Integrity Services, Compliance and Licensing for the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), said: 'The charges BHA has issued today are the result of a long and complicated investigation. This process has taken significant time and resources.
'However, investigations such as these are very similar to fraud investigations and as such are complex and time consuming. Furthermore, we encountered difficulties in obtaining telephone records from certain individuals who refused to co-operate. This resulted in us having to make a number of applications to the High Court for orders against their mobile telephone service providers for disclosure of the relevant records.
'We hope that today’s announcement demonstrates our commitment to deterring and detecting wrong-doing and taking action against those who we believe to have breached the Rules.
'However, racegoers and those betting on British Racing should be reassured that instances of this nature are extremely rare and that the overwhelming majority of races are free of suspicion.'