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Racing officials probe horse racing outfit over cryptocurrency scam

Racing NSW confirmed it was investigating Phoenix Thoroughbreds, while Racing Victoria said it was in contact with international jurisdictions about the allegations.

Phoenix recently pulled out of racing in the UK and released a statement reaffirming its long-term commitment to Australian racing, which Mr Abdulaziz described as “a cornerstone of our business”.

The operation owns more than 100 horses in Australia including the recently retired two-time group 1 winning sprinter Loving Gaby, who clocked up $2.2 million in prize money.

The 2020 Golden Slipper-winning Farnan, trained by Waterhouse and Adrian Bott, was purchased for $550,000. Farnan has won $2.5 million in prize money and is on track for a lucrative spring carnival. Ms Waterhouse and Mr Bott were contacted for comment.

Phoenix has denied all allegations of wrongdoing.

Amer Abdulaziz Salman: It's been alleged he stole $161 million in a OneCoin cryptocurrency scheme.

Amer Abdulaziz Salman: It’s been alleged he stole $161 million in a OneCoin cryptocurrency scheme.

Konstantin Ignatov, a prosecution witness appearing in the criminal trial of OneCoin lawyer Mark Scott, told the New York Southern District Court in November that Mr Abdulaziz was “one of the main money launderers” in the scam.

“I learned that Amer Abdulaziz took the money he stole and he started to buy a lot of racing horses for more than 25 million euros,” said Mr Ignatov, who has pleaded guilty over his involvement in the scam.

When asked where the money for the racehorses came from, Mr Ignatov responded: “OneCoin investors”.

Racing NSW chief steward Marc Van Gestel said the regulator was investigating Phoenix “to ascertain whether there is any issue with them racing horses in NSW”.

“If we get to a point where we think it is necessary to take some action then we will,” he said.

A Racing Victoria spokeswoman said the authority was “in contact with international jurisdictions” while Queensland Racing Integrity Commissioner Ross Barnett said he was looking into the allegations.

Racing Australia chair Greg Nichols said the peak body was in talks with racing authorities as the allegations could “compromise public confidence in our sport”.

“The obvious place for these allegations to be considered is within the legal system but it doesn’t preclude us from making our own observations and coming to our own conclusions beforehand,” he said.

Gai Waterhouse at trackwork at Werribee Racecourse in 2013.

Gai Waterhouse at trackwork at Werribee Racecourse in 2013.Credit:Getty Images

A Phoenix spokesman said it had done nothing wrong and would fully cooperate with relevant authorities.

“Phoenix Fund Investments LLC believes that the firm and Mr Amer Abdulaziz have acted according to the law at all times, and will vigorously contest all allegations of wrongdoing,” a spokesman said.

The spokesman did not respond to questions about Mr Abdulaziz’s involvement with OneCoin or how the company’s racehorses had been funded.

The OneCoin scam is at the centre of popular BBC podcast The Missing Cryptoqueen, which investigates the disappearance of OneCoin founder Dr Ruja Ignatova.

The Bulgarian-based organisation has been accused of running a Ponzi scheme and did not respond to questions from The Sunday Age and The Sun-Herald.

Australian victims are calling on authorities to act.

Harry Testoni, a Bundaberg man who invested $10,000 of his retirement savings into OneCoin said while he’d given up hope of seeing his money again, he wanted justice.

“It’s wrong,” he said.

Mr Testoni invested in OneCoin four years ago after a friend introduced him to the purported cryptocurrency. He was told it was similar to BitCoin and would skyrocket in value.

But he started to get suspicious when he was unable to cash out his coins.

“They were manipulating everything, and said, ‘it was worth this and that’ and then when you try to withdraw money they say, ‘you can’t draw money out of it’,” he said.

“It was dead money. Gone. Finished.”

Cairns man Jeffrey Rufino was approached by a local OneCoin leader in 2017 and asked to invest in the fake cryptocurrency. He was told it was “the best financial opportunity in the world” and would be worth more than Facebook, Google and Apple.

Mr Rufino declined because he was concerned that OneCoin had no blockchain, a cornerstone of secure cryptocurrencies which creates a permanent record of transactions.

Unfortunately his family members were not so lucky, with his uncle investing $100,000 of his superannuation into OneCoin.

“I would like the victims to get some sort of compensation,” he said.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission issued a warning about OneCoin last year, saying it could be a scam.

A spokeswoman said OneCoin investors could lodge a report of misconduct with ASIC and should also contact the Australian Federal Police as the scheme’s conduct may constitute transnational fraud or cybercrime.

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