WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Team New Zealand have blamed "informants" for spreading "highly defamatory and inaccurate" allegations about the body organising their America's Cup defence, triggering government questions over "financial and structural matters".
The team, who will defend the 169-year-old sailing trophy in Auckland next year, said suspicions that there were "informants" in the America's Cup Event (ACE) organisation were confirmed when leaked information came back to them from Europe.
"The motives of the informants who had access to the Team New Zealand base can only be guessed at," read a team statement.
"In addition, these people have made highly defamatory and inaccurate allegations ... These allegations are entirely incorrect. As a result, the contract of the informants has been terminated."
ACE is a subsidiary of Team New Zealand formed to run the America's Cup.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), the New Zealand government agency responsible for the America's Cup, confirmed they had been made aware of the allegations.
"This includes claims around structural and financial matters," said Iain Cossar, General Manager Tourism at MBIE."The claims made require careful and thorough consideration. We are working with ACE and Team New Zealand in relation to the claims made."
Team New Zealand said they wanted to "close out the remaining issues" with the MBIE as quickly as possible.
"MBIE have no choice but to investigate despite our belief that the motives of the informants are extremely suspect," the statement added.
Allegations of spying and subterfuge are not new in the high tech world of America's Cup racing.
In 2013, then holders Oracle were fined and had their testing time reduced by five days as a penalty for spying on rivals Luna Rossa in New Zealand's Hauraki Gulf.
The 36th America's Cup will start in January with a regatta between four challengers from Italy, Britain and the United States. The winner then faces Team New Zealand for the America's Cup next March.
($1 = 1.5579 New Zealand dollars)
(Writing by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney; Editing by Himani Sarkar)