by Murray Bell
The Hong Kong Jockey Club is exploring “all avenues” to interview jailed jockey Chris Munce before he heads back to Australia later this month in a prisoner exchange deal.
An agreement was reportedly brokered between Hong Kong and Australia’s state (New South Wales) and national governments. It will allow Munce to return to Sydney and serve the rest of his sentence in a minimum-security prison.
Munce, 37, was sentenced to two-and-a-half years imprisonment in March for his involvement in a tips-for-bets scandal. Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption uncovered the scheme during the 2005-2006 racing season, when Munce finished third on the jockeys’ premiership.
Hong Kong Jockey Club chief stipendiary steward Jamie Stier said Sept. 1 the club had been attempting to gain access to Munce before news of the exchange deal surfaced. He said he remained hopeful of interviewing the Melbourne Cup-winning rider before he departs Hong Kong.
“It’s all a matter of access (to Munce),” Stier said of the Jockey Club’s inquiry, which has been on hold since Munce’s arrest in July, 2006, pending resolution of the criminal case.
“If we are able to gain access to Chris Munce, we will reconvene the inquiry as soon as practicable. We are certainly exploring all avenues in a bid to gain that access, and were doing so well before news of this reported prisoner exchange agreement took place,” said Stier.
He would not rule out the possibility of stewards flying to Sydney to interview Munce if the Jockey Club failed to get access to the jockey before he departs Hong Kong.
“I’m certainly not saying we wouldn’t go to Australia,” said Stier. “If that possibility was available, it’s one we would consider.”
If found culpable for betting offenses under the Jockey Club’s rules of racing, Munce could face worldwide disqualification from holding a license for two to five years.
Hong Kong’s security bureau declined comment on the pending agreement, as did Munce’s wife, Cathy. A family friend said she is “terrified” of inadvertently saying something that may upset Hong Kong authorities and cause them to reverse their apparent decision to allow Munce to return to Australia.
The two countries secretly negotiated the deal to repatriate Munce over the past three month. The final provision -- who would pay the estimated AUST$10,000 (HK$64,000) it would cost for two prison officers to escort the jockey back to Australia – was resolved in the past few days.
The NSW government refused to pay, deeming it an inappropriate use of taxpayers’ money. The funds were reportedly raised by family friends and forwarded to Hong Kong.
Since April 2006, Australia has had a bilateral treaty with Hong Kong for the transfer of sentenced persons.
With Cathy Munce having met her husband’s legal expenses (reportedly HK$4.5 million), the family is reportedly under financial duress. A fundraising lunch -- an invitation-only affair for 200 attendees -- is planned at a Sydney restaurant Sept. 21.