RIO DE JANEIRO: Brazilian police arrested a director from the FIFA partner company handling World Cup ticket packages, accusing him of leading a network that illegally sold game passes.
Ray Whelan, a director at Match Hospitality, was detained at Rio de Janeiro’s luxurious beachfront Copacabana Palace Hotel, days after 11 people were rounded up in a raid to dismantle the network.
Fabio Barucke, the case’s lead investigator, said Whelan faces charges of facilitating the distribution of tickets for their illegal sale and criminal conspiracy. If found guilty, he could face four years in prison.
Local media said Whelan is a 64-year-old British citizen. Some 100 tickets were found in his hotel room.
The arrest was made on the eve of the tournament’s first semi-final game between Brazil and Germany in Belo Horizonte. Argentina and the Netherlands will face off for the final’s last spot on Wednesday in Sao Paulo.
Police say the international scalping syndicate sold thousands of tickets worth millions of dollars, going back to the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea.
The scandal is the latest to hit FIFA, which is already battling allegations that members accepted bribes from a Qatari football official to secure support for the emirate’s campaign to get the 2022 World Cup finals.
One of Match Hospitality’s shareholders is Swiss-based Infront Sports and Media, headed by Philippe Blatter, the nephew of FIFA president Sepp Blatter.
A French-Algerian suspect, Mohamadou Lamine Fofana, was initially thought to be responsible for the ticket scheme after he was among 11 people arrested last week in Rio and Sao Paulo.
But suspicions moved toward an individual at Match Hospitality, the official World Cup ticket agency, which sells deluxe packages that include private suites at stadiums and gourmet catering.
“Whelan denied negotiating tickets with the Franco-Algerian Mohamadou Lamine Fofana during the World Cup, but we have proof. We have 900 (intercepted) calls between the two during the tournament,” Barucke told reporters.
The investigation is looking into seven more suspects, but Barucke did not give more details.
Police say Whelan gave VIP tickets to Fofana that were originally for sponsors, non-governmental organizations and relatives of players. Fofana then sold them illegally with the help of travel agencies and football contacts.
Authorities said last week a FIFA official appeared to have been involved in the scheme and that the Brazilian, Spanish and Argentine football federations are under investigation.
Match Hospitality said earlier that it had canceled the tickets bought by Fofana’s company, Atlanta Sportif, for the semi-finals and the final.
The hospitality firm warned that it would cancel the remaining tickets of three other companies whose names appeared in tickets seized by police unless they cooperate with the probe.
Match identified the companies as Reliance Industries Limited, Jet Set Sports and Pamodzi Sports, but did not give details about the companies’ ownership.
Reliance Industries bought 304 packages for 19 matches worth $1.2 million, including access to a private suite for all games in Rio, Sao Paulo and Belo Horizonte. Match Hospitality said 59 tickets seized last week had the company’s name on them.
One ticket was imprinted with the name Jet Set Sports, which purchased 40 packages for two games worth $108,250. The package had been allocated to an individual who resides in Australia, Match Hospitality said, without naming the person.
Another ticket had the name Pamodzi, which secured 350 packages for 18 games — including private suites and business seats – worth more than $1.2 million.
Byrom plc, a Manchester, England, company, has a 75 percent stake in Match Hospitality. It also owns Match Services. Both Match firms are based in Zurich and provide World Cup ticketing and hospitality services.