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Footballer Chopra charged with bribery

By Chris McGrath

Michael Chopra, the Ipswich Town striker, has been charged by the British Horseracing Authority with offering to bribe Andrew Heffernan, a jockey confined to the sport’s margins, and “conspiring to commit a corrupt or fraudulent practice”, following an investigation into betting on nine races between November 2010 and March 2011.

He is alleged to have conspired with James Coppinger, a midfielder with Nottingham Forest, and Mark Wilson, once of Manchester United but recently released by Oxford United. Along with five others, they are charged with laying Heffernan’s mounts on betting exchanges — or causing others to do so — after receiving information from the jockey. Wilson is also among those charged with offering him a bribe. The Football Association is aware of the charges, but is understood to be awaiting the outcome of the BHA inquest — for which no date has yet been set — before considering any disciplinary action of its own.

By accusing three professional footballers of involvement in a race-fixing conspiracy, the racing authorities have braced themselves for a fairly sensational journey to the facts.

Few laymen, certainly, will ponder the BHA’s vigilance in raising its concerns about Heffernan. Most will doubtless prefer to view allegations against Chopra, formerly of Cardiff City and Sunderland, in a tradition of venality in those who ride horses, as well as those who bet on them.

Chopra (28) has a history of gambling problems, entering rehabilitation clinics in 2008 and again last autumn.

Last November, he admitted to gambling as much as £20,000 a day, estimating his total losses between £1.5m and £2m. “I was playing through injury to cover a debt,” he said.

Heffernan (24) disappeared from the British scene after August 2011, having won on only two of his previous 92 mounts, and is now understood to be working for a leading stable in New South Wales, Australia.

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