AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- A New Zealand government agency is investigating claims of "structural and financial" irregularities in the staging of next year's America's Cup.
Cup defender Team New Zealand said the claims were based on "inaccurate allegations" from a contract company that had access to its Auckland base. The contractor was sacked when sensitive information was returned to the team from partners in Europe, confirming its suspicions of a leak in its own organization, the team added.
In a statement on Monday, Team New Zealand said "the motives of the informants who had access to the Emirates Team New Zealand base can only be guessed at at this stage."
"In addition, these people have made highly defamatory and inaccurate allegations regarding financial and structural matters against [America's Cup Events], ETNZ and its personnel."
America's Cup Events is the company charged with staging the cup regatta which will be sailed off Auckland in March. Team New Zealand will defend the 169-year-old trophy -- the oldest in sports -- against challengers from the United States, Britain and Italy.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, which is the lead government agency overseeing taxpayer investment in the cup defense, confirmed on Monday it was investigating claims relating to the organization of the regatta.
MBIE tourism general manager Iain Cossar said "this includes structural and financial matters. We are working with America's Cup Events Ltd, and Emirates Team New Zealand in relation to the claims made.
"As there are contractual agreements in place, we're unable to go into further detail at this time due to commercial sensitivity, but we will provide a full update once more information is available."
Team New Zealand general manager Grant Dalton said he hopes the investigation can be quickly concluded.
"Although these allegations are baseless, MBIE have no choice but to investigate despite our belief that the motives of the informants are extremely suspect," Dalton said. "We are working with MBIE to close out the remaining issues with them quickly."
In an interview with the Stuff news website, Dalton said Team New Zealand suspected for six months there was an informant inside its organization. Its base was twice swept for electronic devices and its firewalls were tested to ensure it could not be hacked.
"We're flabbergasted," Dalton told Stuff. "[That this] has existed in our own organization, under our watch we find unbelievable.
"We still continue to struggle to believe it, but it's happened."
Spying allegations have been a constant feature of the America's Cup since 1851, when the trophy was first won by the schooner America from its British defender off Cowes, England.
Technical innovation has always been a key element of the event, and teams go to exceptional lengths to hide developments and intellectual property from rivals.
Monday's allegations coincided with the arrival in Auckland of the first challenging sailboat, the New York Yacht Club's 75-foot Defiant. The high-tech monohull is one of two that will be used by the American Magic syndicate.