Brazilian police on Monday arrested a British executive of the Swiss-based FIFA partner company handling World Cup ticket packages, accusing him of leading a network that illegally sold game passes.
Ray Whelan of 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.
Some 100 tickets were found in his hotel room.
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 host 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.
Nine hundred phone calls
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.
Rio de Janeiro police said last week that Fofana had free access to restricted FIFA areas and received up to one million reais ($450,000) per game by re-selling tickets.
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 organisations 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.
FIFA spokeswoman Delia Fischer said the organization "takes note" of Whelan's arrest and that it continues to cooperate with the investigation.
Packages held by Reliance Industries Ltd, Jet Set Sports and Pamodzi were blocked after tickets with their names were found in Fofana's possession, Match Hospitality said in a statement.
"(They) are to cooperate with Match Hospitality by helping the authorities with their enquiries regarding the hospitality packages with their names on them found in Mr. Fofana's possession," said Match.
"Failing that, Match Hospitality will cancel their tickets for the final."
FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS
Date created : 2014-07-08