Harness racing: Trainer with underworld links at centre of EPA track-glass probe

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Ahmed (left) and Freddy Taiba at their Sunbury base in 2012. Photo: Michael Copp The EPA would not comment on whether harness racing trainers who used the glass product would face charges. Photo: Rob Gunstone
Nanjing Night Net

A harness racing trainer with links to underworld figures is at the centre of an Environment Protection Authority investigation into the use of crushed glass on trotting tracks across Victoria.

Industry sources say as many as 70 tracks have been covered using the recycled glass as fill material, and questioned the length of the EPA investigation, which has dragged on for more than a year without any findings about whether the glass is a pollutant.

The EPA is still investigating whether the industrial waste is safe for use but has warned that landowners could be ordered to remove it, as they are ultimately responsible for knowing what is on their properties.

In other states, recycled glass has been found to be a likely cause of soil and air pollution, and stormwater contamination.

Racing officials say the product has been deemed safe for horses.

Ahmed Taiba, a Sunbury-based trainer who had ties to Tony Mokbel’s empire before the drug kingpin was jailed and is also an associate of controversial horse owner and gambler Paul Sequenzia, has supplied the product.

Leading trainer David Miles, who swears by the crushed glass, said $300 bought a load that lightly covered a small track.

Using the glass, which is a light grey and visibly different from any other material commonly used by trainers, gave his track extra bounce, and made it less susceptible to hardening.

He said that because the product was significantly cheaper and more effective than normal trotting track fill it had become wildly popular, despite the EPA not having cleared it for use.

It is understood Mr Taiba sources the product from Glass Recovery Services, which is based in Coolaroo.

Last year, the EPA found that glass waste at the Glass Recovery Services plant in Penrith, Sydney, was probably contaminating the soil, stormwater, and air, as it was being kept outside without a cover and there was no containment to prevent run-off.

The authority ordered that 90 per cent of the waste be removed and that buildings be improved to prevent contamination.

While the glass being used on trotting tracks is kept in similar conditions to the material in Penrith, significantly less of the product is needed to coat a track, and it is believed the glass is generally of a higher quality than that found at the plant.

But Mr Miles said the glass smelt like a rubbish bin, and the stench remained until the track was watered. The EPA noted a similar smell at the Penrith plant.

Mr Taiba and his brothers, Hass and Freddy, are successful long-term harness racing trainers and drivers.

Freddy trained Sushi Sushi, Mr Sequenzia’s most successful trotter, until 2012. The horse netted $1.1 million in prize money and was once dubbed the Black Caviar of harness racing.

Ahmed drove Em Maguane, a horse part-owned by Mr Sequenzia which later tested positive for the performance-enhancing stimulant EPO, in 2007.

Ahmed and Hass have both been sanctioned for gambling on harness races.

Mr Sequenzia, the brother-in-law of slain gangland figure Mark Moran, also has strong ties to the Mokbel clan, including Tony’s brother Horty.

Ahmed Taiba declined to comment.

The EPA would not comment on what had prolonged the investigation, or whether Mr Taiba, and trainers who used the product, could face charges.

Damien Wells, EPA executive director of regional services, confirmed that 15 properties had been inspected.

“EPA is currently assessing whether the material being deposited at harness racing properties can be safely used for this purpose.

“Landowners should not accept waste if they don’t know where it’s from or what’s in it. It’s also important for them to find out from their local council if a planning permit is required for activities on their land.”

Harness Racing Victoria’s general manager of integrity, Andy Rogers, said the product had been deemed safe for horses by the RSPCA, but that trainers should remain vigilant about the waste being deposited on their properties.

“It is noted that the EPA investigation relates to the distribution and use of the waste material, rather than any concerns from an equine welfare perspective and that the RSPCA is not currently continuing an active involvement in the investigation,” he said.

A spokesman for Glass Recovery Services declined to comment.

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