Australian horse racing industry rocked by drug arrest

Sydney (AFP) –


Australia's horse racing industry was reeling Friday after a high-profile owner was charged with being part of a syndicate smuggling cocaine on commercial flights from South Africa.

Damion Flower, a regular fixture at Sydney's racetracks, was arrested at his home in the city on Wednesday. An airport baggage handler was also arrested.

Both have been charged with six counts of importing a commercial quality of drugs.

Another man linked to the plot was seized last month. If convicted, they face life in jail.

Flower did not apply for bail when he appeared in court on Thursday.

The 47-year-old shot to prominence as the owner of Snitzel, a Group 1 winner that has become one of Australia's most in-demand stallions. Group 1 are the highest class of thoroughbred racing.

He owns or part-owns some 50 horses, including some with well-known figures -- such as Australian rugby league great Phil Gould.

"I just can't believe it. I am hoping it's not true. I've been sick all day," the Sydney Morning Herald cited Gould as saying.

There is no suggestion that Flower's co-owners knew anything about his alleged criminal activities.

Australian Federal Police Superintendent Brad Edgtton said it had been "a complex, multi-layered investigation".

"These arrests demonstrate trusted insiders who are allegedly willing to abuse that position of trust are on our radar," he added.

Police say the Sydney airport baggage handler used his airside access to collect more than 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of cocaine from the holds of commercial flights.

The drugs were then allegedly passed to two other men, including Flower.

Some Aus$8 million (US$5.5 million) in cash was seized at a property linked to the baggage handler, police said.