Australian champion jockey Chris Munce sentenced for racing bribes

Australian champion jockey Chris Munce was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison Thursday for taking bribes for racing tips in a landmark Hong Kong case, casting a shadow over an illustrious career highlighted by a 1998 Melbourne Cup victory.

Munce's wife, Cathy, broke down in tears after District Court Judge Kevin Browne announced the sentence and her husband was taken into custody.

She yelled, "you'll never get anyone here again," as she left the courtroom, apparently warning the conviction would scare off foreign jockeys from competing in Hong Kong.

Munce, who wore a black suit, blue shirt, and pink tie on his stocky build, maintained his composure. After being convicted in the morning, he returned to court to hear his sentence without a tie.

Judge Browne said Munce "undermined the integrity of racing," adding that "iconic" jockeys such as the Australian had a huge following and are seen as role models by younger jockeys.

"For an offense of this kind, an immediate custodial sentence is inevitable," he said.

Munce's lawyer, John McNamara, declined to say if his client planned to appeal. Prosecutor John Dunn said he expected Munce to appeal and to apply for bail pending the appeal, although he said it was difficult to obtain because he needed to prove the likelihood of a successful challenge.

He said Munce's sentence could be reduced to 20 months, or by a third, if he behaves well in prison.

Dunn said Munce's case is the first time a jockey has been convicted for accepting advantages in return for tips in Hong Kong.

Earlier Thursday, McNamara challenged the conviction in an animated argument with the judge.

He said Munce broke Hong Kong racing rules that ban jockeys from betting on contests, but that he didn't commit a criminal offense and that the matter should be handled by local racing officials, not in a court of law.

"He's selling secret information by virtue of giving tips. That's the criminality I find," Browne replied.

McNamara also argued no one suffered financially from Munce's scheme, calling it a "victimless crime."

"What is alleged, what's been proven doesn't deserve the penalty that would ruin the life of this man and the life of his family," he said.

"What about the reputation of racing? It attracts huge public interest," Browne said.

Prosecutors said during the trial Munce provided tips to Hong Kong businessman Andy Lau 17 times covering races involving 29 horses from December 2005 to May 2006, and that Lau bet for him and relayed the winnings to Munce through a middleman.

The tips allegedly covered races that Munce raced in.

The middleman, businessman Dinesh Kumar Daswani, was granted immunity in exchange for giving details about the tips-for-bets scheme, the AP reports.

McNamara said Daswani's testimony was self-serving and false. Munce was also accused of betting through Daswani's uncle, the AP said.

Munce was found carrying a betting slip and HK$250,000 (US$31,994; EUR 24,354.11) in cash stuffed in his jeans pockets when he was arrested on July 3, 2006, after meeting with Lau at a hotel, prosecutors said.

The jockey said the cash was a "going away" present from Lau, according to prosecutors.

Dunn said Browne has granted a government request to confiscate the cash found on Munce.

The jockey has won many of the biggest races on the Australian calendar, including the 1998 Melbourne Cup on Jezabeel, and Golden Slipper races on Prowl in 1998 and Dance Hero in 2004.

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