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Alinghi denies sending hate mail

Alinghi is leading Cup holders Team New Zealand 3-0.

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AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- Swiss Alinghi has rejected as "unfounded and damaging" allegations that threatening letters sent to its crewmembers had come from within the team.

Members of Alinghi received letters last December warning of damage to team members' property and violence against their families and saying the movement of children and other family members had been tracked.

Winston Peters, head of the minor political party New Zealand First, asked Police Minister George Hawkins in parliament on Tuesday: "Is it not true, from police sources in Auckland, that the police inquiry ... is finished and that the threat came from the Alinghi camp itself but no action is being taken for political reasons?"

Hawkins said he had no knowledge of Peters' claim and that Peters should give whatever information he had to police.

Alinghi chief executive Michel Bonnefous criticized Peters' on Thursday saying the allegations were based on rumors.

"It is disappointing that he is spreading unfounded and damaging claims," Bonnefous told Reuters.

"The New Zealand minister of police has rejected what Mr. Peters said and police have told us there is no evidence to substantiate the rumor," he said.

New Zealander skipper Russell Coutts, tactician Brad Butterworth and four other key crew members caused outrage in New Zealand when they defected from Team New Zealand to Alinghi just weeks after successfully defending the 2000 America's Cup.

Bonnefous said Peters was a supporter of the BlackHeart -- a group which formed last September to campaign against the sailors joining other teams.

BlackHeart was considered a possible source of the letters but was quickly eliminated from the police inquiry.

Inspector Mark Hall, head of police operations for the America's Cup, reiterated police had been investigating whether the letters had come from within Alinghi but said it "is simply one avenue of inquiry."

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