FOOTBALLERS Michael Chopra and James Coppinger have been disqualified for ten and three years respectively after being found in breach of the Rules of Racing following the outcome of a British Horseracing Authority investigation into alleged corruption.
Chopra was found in breach of committing corrupt and fraudulent practices and offering a bribe, while Coppinger was found guilty of corrupt and fraudulent practices.
The disqualifications mean neither Chopra nor Coppinger can attend licensed racing premises such as racecourses or stables during the period of their bans, or have contact with licensed persons.
At the centre of the investigation were charges relating to former British-based Flat jockey Andrew Heffernan, who has been disqualified for 15 years. The BHA said the 24-year-old Heffernan was hit with two 15-year disqualifications, but those punishments will run concurrently.
Heffernan, who has most recently been riding in Australia, was found in breach of all charges brought against him by a BHA disciplinary panel, which published its results on Friday after a hearing that started on 14 January and lasted four days.
Along with Ipswich Town striker Chopra and Doncaster Rovers midfielder Coppinger, former England Under-21 international Mark Wilson also faced charges. Wilson, like Chopra, was found guilty of committing corrupt and fraudulent practices and offering a bribe and was disqualified for ten years.
The inquiry centred on horses being laid to lose on betting exchanges in races that took place between 1 November, 2010 and 31 March, 2011.
The charges related to Heffernan’s riding of three horses – Wanchai Whisper, Gallantry and Silver Guest.
Speaking earlier in the month, Chopra said he could not afford to pay the £50,000 legal fees to defend himself during the inquiry. The 29-year-old former Cardiff City forward also said he would welcome any BHA-imposed sanctions as he attempts to cure a gambling addiction.
He said: “It is well publicised that I have a gambling addiction problem and I see any such sanctions as being a useful mechanism in helping me to address these problems. As of this year, I’ve voluntarily excluded myself from all betting institutions from where I live in Ipswich in order to help me fight this illness.”
Ipswich Town said Chopra would not be making any further comment. Ipswich press manager Steve Pearce said in a statement issued last night: “This is a private matter between Michael and the British Horseracing Authority.
“Michael issued a statement before the inquiry began stating his reasons why he would not be appearing in front of the BHA. He has nothing further to add to that statement at this stage and wants to concentrate on an important game at Bristol City at the weekend.”
Five other individuals – Paul Garner, Yogesh Joshee, Douglas Shelley, Kelly Inglis and Pravin Shingardia – were also found in breach.
The BHA said that all charges brought against those involved in the case were successful.
Heffernan was charged with communicating directly or indirectly to one or more betting exchange account holders information relating to the prospects in the race of that horse. He was also charged with giving information in return for some reward, that he offered to receive or received a bribe, and that he intentionally failed to ensure that a horse ridden by him was run on its merits.
Chopra, Garner, Joshee, Shelley and Wilson were charged with offering bribes to Heffernan. Inglis was also charged with conspiring with Heffernan to offer to receive bribes from Chopra, Garner, Joshee, Shelley and Wilson. Garner was also charged with placing lay bets on horses at a time when he was entered as a stable employee. Garner has been disqualified for 12 and a half years, while Shelley was excluded for eight years.
Shingadia, who was found to have conspired with others to commit a corrupt and fraudulent practice, was banned three years.
Joshee and Inglis were disqualified for five and four years respectively.
Adam Brickell, BHA director of integrity, legal and risk, said in a statement: “The findings of the disciplinary panel confirm that an elaborate network of corruption has been identified and successfully prosecuted by the BHA. This has resulted in nine individuals being disqualified or excluded from our sport for a combined total of over 70 years.
“Investigations of this scale are extremely complex, especially when we are faced with a lack of cooperation, evasion and untruthful accounts from many of those being investigated.
“It is as a result of significant hard work that a successful conclusion has been achieved, and further evidence that the BHA is prepared to properly investigate cases involving unlicensed as well as licensed individuals.”