Victoria’s Racing Integrity Commissioner, Sal Perna, has taken the extraordinary step of naming controversial jockey Danny Nikolic and detailing investigations about him in the organisation’s annual report.

Nikolic has been making news in the lead-up to tomorrow’s Melbourne Cup because last week he was charged with six police charges, including two of unlawful assault and one of assaulting police. Police have confirmed he has been summonsed to appear at the Melbourne Magistrates Court on December 12.  The charges relate to alleged incidents earlier this year.

The annual report details a complaint made by Nikolic against Racing Victoria because, according to Nikolic, the racing body inappropriately disclosed information about Nikolic to The Australian. The information related to a separate inquiry about Nikoilc being conducted by the Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board.

The annual report explained that the Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board was conducting an investigation into the matter “commonly referred to as the Finishing Card Inquiry” in which Nikolic had been charged with four serious offences and five non serious offences.

Nikolic was cleared of the serious offences but was fined for the less serious matters.

However, the annual report reveals that Nikolic claimed that Racing Victoria had effectively victimised him by releasing information to The Australian and by serving notices on him “repeatedly and unnecessarily” before races and for turning the process of dealing with his hearing into a form of penalty.

While the Racing Integrity Commissioner dismissed Nikolic’s complaints, he did recommend new ways to improve laying charges against jockeys.  The commissioner stressed the importance of racing stewards obtaining legal advice before laying charges against jockeys and recommended that they exercise discretion about laying charges on days when jockeys are racing.

Perna also used the annual report to recommend more co-ordination of racing steward training to eliminate doping. He also warned that if punters believed animals were running doped, they would stop attending and betting at the races.

The report also revealed that in the past financial year, he investigated 42 complaints across the racing bodies, 26 of which were integrity related.

“There are aspects of money laundering, illegal betting and criminal activity within the industry,” Perna said in an interview. “It is important for stewards to know (the difference) between right and wrong.”

Another case highlighted by the report included the disciplining of a steward for failing to follow proper process in collecting a sample, after the commissioner investigated a complaint about a stewards’ inquiry.  The complaint was made after “a positive sample of a prohibited substance in an animal resulted in the charge later being withdrawn”, the report said.

The commissioner recommended that the integrity subcommittee of the racing control body involved — the report did not reveal which — take the disciplinary action.

A further investigation resulted from a tip-off to the Racing Integrity Hotline, and resulted in an owner and a person posing as a trainer each being fined $5000 after a stewards’ enquiry.

However, it said a stakeholder survey revealed that not all were happy with the commissioner’s role in investigating complaints.  One controlling body described his office’s priority as acting as “an ombudsman for the disaffected who have been found guilty of acts against good integrity and have done little, if anything, to support and develop those trying to maintain and improve the integrity of the codes”.

The post of Racing Integrity Commissioner was established by the former Labour government, following Judge Gordon Lewis’s 2008 review that recommended an independent body to govern integrity-related aspects of Victorian racing.

The commissioner aimed to independently investigate those matters “to give the public confidence in Victorian racing”, said Perna. “People come to us knowing we are independent and impartial.”

The report said the commissioner must “conduct annual audits of the internal integrity process and systems, in whole or in part, of each controlling body; Racing Victoria Limited (RVL), Harness Racing Victoria (HRV) and Greyhound Racing Victoria (GRV)”.

A former Victoria police homicide detective inspector, Perna  was appointed Victoria’s first Racing Integrity Commissioner for an initial two years from March 1 last year. He had a background in law enforcement and anti-corruption program development, including for Tennis Australia.

Peter Fray

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