World Cup touting row: Fifa partner says Ray Whelan is not 'fugitive'

Police say Whelan, wanted over ticket touting allegations, fled luxury hotel before re-arrest, but Match says he is with a lawyer

Ray Whelan, a senior British executive with Fifa's ticket and hospitality partner Match, has been labelled a fugitive by Rio de Janeiro police after they turned up at his luxury hotel to re-arrest him over ticket touting allegations then claimed he had fled through a service exit.

The investigation, being covered in minute detail by the Brazilian media amid a series of police leaks, has the potential to be hugely embarrassing for Fifa, shining a light on the trade in tickets that critics have long claimed occurs in the shadows of big tournaments.

A company run by the Fifa president Sepp Blatter's nephew is one of the minority shareholders in Match Hospitality, which has sold 300,000 hospitality packages for the Brazil World Cup and has a $300m (£175m) contract with world football's governing body.

An alleged $100m ticket touting ring is said to have been making money by acquiring and illegally selling on VIP tickets and hospitality passes.

Amid claim and counter claim between Match and Rio police, the British ambassador in Brazil revealed that most of the 22 British nationals arrested during the tournament had been held for ticket touting. "We have had a total of 20,000 fans coming from England at various times and we have only had 22 arrests, and the vast majority of those were for ticket touting," said the ambassador, Alex Ellis.

The British consulate in Rio was called in when Whelan was arrested on Monday, Ellis confirmed, before the executive, a former agent to Sir Bobby Charlton, was released on bail on Tuesday.

Ellis said: "We offered consular assistance when he was arrested and provided him with a list of lawyers and interpreters. I have seen the latest reports from the Brazilian police but they have not been in touch with us."

In a statement on Friday, Match said it believed that the terms of Whelan's release did not restrict his movements as long as he remained in the country.

The company said it did not believe the term "fugitive" was appropriate under the circumstances as he was with his lawyer. "We understand that any accused in Brazil has the fundamental right to resist a coercion that he believes to be arbitrary and illegal."

It said it had not yet had an opportunity to speak to Whelan or his lawyer but that he did not flee from the hotel. It said that police, when they found he was not there, simply requested that he present himself at the station.

"Ray Whelan has not yet been granted the due process of a fair trial. Match remains absolutely confident that any charges raised against Ray will be rebutted," it added.

Match has challenged police to justify the arrest of Whelan, a director of the firm's accommodation service. He is a brother-in-law of the company's Mexican founders, Jaime and Enrique Byrom.

Rio police arrested 11 individuals last week as part of Operation Jules Rimet.

Fabio Barucke, an investigator, said Whelan left the Copacabana Palace hotel, where he and most of the senior Fifa executives in Rio are staying, through a service exit an hour before police arrived to re-arrest him. "He's now considered a fugitive," said Barucke. "We have security camera images of him exiting the hotel through a service door." The police still hold Whelan's passport.

He said police expected to broaden their investigation into ticket touting to include senior football administrators.

Police had recorded 900 calls between Whelan and the Algerian ticket broker Lamine Fofana since the World Cup began on 12 June, and virtually all of them referred to the selling of tickets, Barucke said. "Raymond knew that Fofana was a scalper; he knew that he was going to resell those tickets on the black market."

Earlier this week, Match blocked hospitality packages held by companies including the Indian conglomerate Reliance Industries and hospitality firm Jet Set Sports after their names were featured on some of the tickets seized by police.

But the company claims that the police have failed to understand how its business works. Match said that tapped calls leaked to the Brazilian broadcaster Globo proved Whelan's innocence rather than implicating him.

It said the $25,000 worth of tickets under discussion with Fofana, who was among the 11 people arrested by police, were part of a hospitality package being sold at its published rate

"Far from helping to incriminate Mr Whelan, they secured a nationwide audience who clearly heard Mr Whelan conduct a discussion for the possible sale of an official hospitality product."

But the Rio mayor, Eduardo Paes, said he had full confidence in the city's police.

The episode is hugely embarrassing for Fifa, which claims to have been clamping down on ticket touting since the 2010 World Cup. The Match group of companies has won a series of Fifa contracts to run ticketing, travel, accommodation and technology services at the World Cup since 1994.

Eyebrows were raised when Match was awarded the exclusive rights to hospitality and accommodation for the 2010 and 2014 World Cups but Fifa insisted it was an open tender. In 2011 Fifa announced that Match would continue as its exclusive contractor until 2023 in a deal said to be worth at least $300m.

The Byrom brothers initially worked at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico as independent operators and won their first Fifa contract at the 1994 World Cup in the US. In the subsequent two decades the company's operations have become closely entwined with Fifa, providing not only hospitality packages but a string of other services including accommodation, IT and ticketing.


Owen Gibson

The GuardianTramp

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