World Cup ticket-scalping 'facilitator' released

GRAHAM DUNBAR
Last updated 02:19 09/07/2014

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A World Cup corporate hospitality executive suspected of involvement with a ticket-scalping ring was released from police custody early on Tuesday (local time) and returned to work.

Ray Whelan, of the MATCH group of companies, was arrested Monday at the Copacabana Palace in Rio de Janeiro, the hotel used by Fifa officials during the World Cup.

Police have described Whelan as the "facilitator" who allowed a large ring of scalpers to have access to tickets, which they re-sold at vastly inflated prices. Reselling tickets for profit is illegal in Brazil.

Whelan was arrested in his luxury suite where police said they confiscated 82 tickets for upcoming matches, along with Whelan's computer, cellphone and other unspecified documents

His attorney, Fernando Fernandes, told reporters his arrest was "illegal and absurd."

Whelan will not be allowed to leave Brazil during the tournament.

Asked if Whelan's accreditation for the World Cup would be revoked, Fifa spokeswoman Delia Fischer said the sport's international governing body couldn't act until he had received the full report from police.

"We need all the proof," Fischer told a news briefing. "We want the matter solved quickly and investigated to its fullest extent."

Under Brazilian law, the 64-year-old Whelan may only be charged by prosecutors after they receive the complete police investigation, which officers have 30 days to complete.

Whelan was detained for questioning after the earlier arrests of 11 people, including Algerian national Mohamadou Lamine Fofana.

Police said Whelan was heard on wiretapped phone calls negotiating ticket prices with Fofana, who was accused of being the ringleader of the scalpers.

MATCH said in a statement it has complete confidence in Whelan's innocence and that he would return to work.

MATCH said in the statement it has "complete faith that the facts will establish that (Whelan) has not violated any laws."

Whelan is a longstanding executive with the MATCH group, which is based in England and run by Mexican brothers Jaime and Enrique Byrom. He has represented the company at events such as Soccerex.

MATCH has Fifa contracts to run accommodation, ticketing and IT services at the World Cup.

The MATCH Hospitality subsidiary, which is based in Zurich, paid US$120 million for exclusive rights to sell and market more than 400,000 corporate hospitality packages for this World Cup.

In 2011, Fifa extended MATCH Hospitality's exclusive rights through the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, including the Confederations Cup and Women's World Cups.

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"The deal for the entire period covers a financial guarantee for Fifa of US$300 million as well as a profit share," the governing body said when the deal was announced.

It hailed that deal as one which "further strengthens Fifa's fight against ticket touts."

The Byrom brothers' holding company is the major shareholder in MATCH Hospitality. A five percent stake is held by Switzerland-based agency Infront Sports and Media.

Infront's president and CEO is Philippe Blatter, is a nephew of Fifa President Sepp Blatter.

On Tuesday, Infront - whose subsidiary Host Broadcast Services also has the World Cup television production contract from Fifa - sought to distance its CEO from the Rio case.

"Philippe Blatter does not hold any position with MATCH Hospitality," the company said in a statement. "Infront is fully supporting MATCH Hospitality in collaborating with the local authorities investigating in the matter."

Separately, Brazil's Federal Police said on its website that an Italian and a French citizen, who jointly run a travel agency, were arrested at the international airport in Sao Paulo on Monday.

The statement said the two were carrying 48 tickets for the semifinal and final matches - tickets which belonged to "one of the big sponsors" of the World Cup. The statement didn't identify the sponsor, and a spokeswoman said police had no immediate comment beyond the statement.

- AP

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