RIO DE JANEIRO: Ray Whelan, a British director of FIFA commercial partner Match, has been arrested by police investigating a World Cup tickets scam writes KEIR RADNEDGE.

Match Servicos de Eventos is a subsidiary of the UK-based Byrom Group which has long been FIFA’s partner in the realms of ticketing and hospitality services.

The police action has to be a massive embarrassment for the world federation.

Philippe Blatter, nephew of FIFA president Sepp Blatter, heads the Infront agency which is not only another commercial partner of FIFA but is a shareholder in Byrom which was founded by Mexican brothers Jaime and Enrique Byrom.

For the past three months agents from Rio police and the public affairs ministry have been monitoring the activities and phone calls of individuals suspected of involvement in a massive and long-established World Cup tickets racket.

Last week 11 individuals were arrested in raids in Rio and Sao Paulo during which top-category tickets, foreign currency, passports and mobile phones were seized in what is being called Operacao Jules Rimet.

The ring-leader was identified by police as a 57-year-old French Algerian, Lamine Fofana who was described as having a home in the UAE and an office in Switzerland.

Central hotel

Brazilian media outlets reported that Whelan had been detained for questioning by police at the Copacabana Palace Hotel which hosts all FIFA’s senior directors. Police sources said they had recorded calls made between Whelan and Fofana.

Whelan, while not an employee of FIFA, has become well-known over the years for his work in the tourism industry and, in particular, in connection with the Match agency’s FIFA work.

Overnight he was released on bail.

Separate Match subsidiaries work with FIFA on ticketing, accommodation and hospitality packages.

FIFA spokesperson Delia Fischer confirmed yesterday that it had supplied police, at their request with a list of all staff and phone numbers.

As for the Whelan, the world federation said: “FIFA has taken note that Ray Whelan, Director of the Accommodation office of MATCH Services, a service provider of FIFA, was taken in at the Copacabana Palace today by the police for questioning about the alleged involvement related to the ‘Operation Jules Rimet’.

“FIFA continues to fully collaborate with the local authorities and will provide any details requested to assist with this ongoing investigation.

“FIFA wants to reiterate as mentioned at various occasions its firm stance against any form of violation of the criminal law and the ticketing regulations, and is fully supporting the security authorities in our joint efforts to clamp down on any unauthorized ticket sales.”

Ticket cancellations

Match Hospitality has said it has cancelled all packages purchased by Fofana’s company Atlanta Sportif . It added that other packages held by Reliance Industries Ltd, Jet Set Sports and Pamodzi have been suspended.

A statement said: “(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. Failing that, Match Hospitality will cancel their tickets for the semi-final and the final.”

Match said its terms expressly prohibited the re-sale of tickets, adding: “Match Hospitality will continue to investigate and cooperate with all tickets seized by police, tracing their path to any illegal resale, and remains committed to preventing the illegal resale of 2014 FIFA World Cup tickets.”