Sailing: Police study threats to Alinghi families

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The Independent Online

The threat of violence to the wives and children of one of the teams challenging for the America's Cup is being investigated by the New Zealand police.

The threat of violence to the wives and children of one of the teams challenging for the America's Cup is being investigated by the New Zealand police. The Alinghi team of Switzerland has been the target of a hate campaign stretching back several months as its skipper, Russell Coutts, who won the cup for New Zealand in 1995 and defended it in 2000, has been branded a traitor by extremist groups.

The terrorism took a new turn in mid-December when two letters were sent to the team's headquarters from a group or person identifying themselves only as Patriot Activists. They were postmarked 16 and 17 December. On 15 December Alinghi had beaten Oracle BMW 4-0 in the Louis Vuitton Cup elimination series semi-final.

The letters were handed to the police by the team's executive director, Michel Bonnefous. They had not previously wanted to make a formal complaint, he said, but now there were "fed up".

He said yesterday that the letters "spelled out a clear intention to target the children and family of sailors. The letters identified team members who have young children... warned that the group would damage team members' property and inflict violence on their families. They said they had tracked the movements of children and other family members and gave personal details about one crew member." The threats are thought to be confined the New Zealanders who formed the core of Team New Zealand but who are now competing for the overseas challenger. There have also been unpleasant scenes in restaurants visited by Team Alinghi members.

A police spokesman Jeoff Barraclough said that the letters were being taken very seriously and a team of detectives was looking into the matter. They had been aware of the hate campaigns by both individual journalists and broadcasters and by a group calling itself "Blackheart" and had lines of enquiry up and running. In New Zealand, threats like this were a rarity, but "if these letters are genuine and we find the people responsible, they will be charged and they will be jailed," he said.

No talks had been held with schools attended by the children of team members – there have already been reports of bullying to both Alinghi team children and those of the now-eliminated OneWorld Challenge, which had also recruited a number of former Team New Zealand members – but the government ministers concerned and local authority leaders were constantly briefed. Security precautions had also been reviewed.

Trevor Mallard, the government minister with special responsibility for the America's Cup, reacted cautiously, confirming that talks had been held between the syndicate head, Ernesto Bertarelli, and the deputy prime minister, Michael Cullen, adding only: "Any personal threat is unacceptable."

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