KEIR RADNEDGE in RIO DE JANEIRO: The FIFA partner company at the centre of a World Cup ticketing storm has launched a vigorous counter-attack against agents of the Rio de Janeiro police and public affairs ministry.
Match Services has accused police of failing to understand the hospitality industry, undertaking an inadequate investigation and leaking selectively to the media in a manner prejudicial to common principles of justice.
Raids last week on properties in Rio and Sao Paulo led to the arrests of 11 men suspected of involvement in a multi-million-pound ticketing scam involving the last four World Cups. Later police also detained briefly Ray Whelan, the executive consultant of Match Services which is contracted to FIFA to organise ticketing and accommodation needs.
In a lengthy statement about the police action, labelled Operacao Jules Rimet, Match described Whelan’s arrest as “arbitrary and illegal.”
It also accused the Rio police of illegal acts in leaking “fragments of Ray’s wiretapped private conversations to the press” and of “making assumptions without a proper investigation and with minimal understanding of how the ticket and hospitality package selling system really works.”
Match went on further to criticise the police for misrepresenting “the relevance of their findings.”
Whelan would “voluntarily relinquish his accreditation for the World Cup” while not accepting any claims of wrongdoing and remaining “fully cooperative for further investigations which he is certain will exonerate him.”
Police had reporting seized from Whelan’s room at the Copacabana Palace Hotel 83 hospitality packages and tickets, a laptop, two mobile phones and $1,300 in cash.
Match “surmises that these 83 tickets are for past matches, retained as memorabilia from the event, or for future matches or personal use by the senior management of Match companies, shareholders and board members as well as members of their families and friends.”
It insisted that all conversations with Mahmadou Fofana – one of the 11 original arrests – concerned bona fide hospitality packages whose prices were fully approved by FIFA.
Match has suspended corporate packages allocated to Fofana’s own company as well as to three secondary ticketing agencies: Reliance Industries, Pamodzi and former London 2012 contractors Jet Set Sports.
Match Hospitality had been allocated 445,500 of the 3million-plus 2014 World Cup tickets made available. Any unsold corporate hospitality tickets are meant to be returned to FIFA to make available to the public. Reselling World Cup tickets for profit is both against FIFA rules and illegal in Brazil.
Match Hospitality and Match Services are two subsidiaries of the Cheadle, Cheshire-based Byrom Group, set up by two Mexican brothers and closely involved with FIFA since the 1986 World Cup.
Philippe Blatter, nephew of FIFA president Sepp Blatter, is chief executive of sports marketing company Infront, another FIFA commercial partner and which also has a shareholding in Match Hospitality. Infront has said it holds only five per cent of shares and Philippe Blatter had no operational involvement or personal stake in the company.
Match Services statement
‘Factual Statement by MATCH Services regarding Operação Jules Rimet (July 9, 2014)’
** With regard to Operação Jules Rimet as well as the ongoing statements and tapped phone conversations released by the police authorities that have led to global media reports and speculation, MATCH Services would like to state the following:
Mr Whelan’s arrest was arbitrary and illegal. The leakage of fragments of Ray’s wiretapped private conversations to the press is also illegal. The 18th Precinct Rio Police are making assumptions without a proper investigation and with minimal understanding of how the ticket and hospitality package selling system really works.
The police in this case have elected to disclose solely to the media evidence that they purport proves crimes. The police have not attempted to investigate the facts and have consequently proceeded to misrepresent the relevance of their findings. Under the circumstances we are left with no option but to respond to the allegations from the police through this statement as opposed to the customary and appropriate legal process.
First, Mr Ray Whelan will voluntarily relinquish his accreditation for the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ in Brazil today.
In doing so, Mr Whelan wishes to reaffirm his total commitment to safeguard the interests of the company MATCH Services, as well as FIFA and the FIFA World Cup™. Mr Whelan wishes to reiterate that he takes this decision with no acceptance of wrongdoing and that he remains fully cooperative for further investigations which he is certain will exonerate him.
When Mr Whelan was taken into custody by the Civil Police of Rio de Janeiro on 7 July and, based on habeas corpus, subsequently released again in the early hours of 8 July, Civil Police of Rio de Janeiro stated that they had seized from Mr Whelan’s room at the Copacabana Palace Hotel 83 Hospitality Packages and tickets, a laptop, two mobile phones and USD $1,300.
In this respect, MATCH would like to emphasise that despite its best efforts, the police authorities continue to refuse to provide details of the tickets that were seized, a step which would have allowed MATCH to assert its rightful ownership of these tickets.
However, based on its internal records and pending presentation from the police, MATCH surmises that these 83 tickets are for past matches, retained as memorabilia from the event, or for future matches or personal use by the senior management of MATCH companies, shareholders and board members as well as members of their families and friends.
On 8 July, the Civil Police of Rio de Janeiro released to the media (never to Mr Whelan or his lawyers) a recorded phone conversation between Mr Ray Whelan and Mr Mohamdou Lamine Fofana, the CEO of Atlantic Sports, to Brazilian media. Extracts of this conversation were aired on major news programmes such as on Globo TV and published by newspapers both in print and online the world over.
MATCH confirms that Mr Whelan indeed had this conversation with Mr Fofana, confirms that there was no crime evidenced by the conversation, and provides the following background information, following which we would urge the police to present to Mr Whelan ALL evidence that they presume to have regarding wrongdoing, prior to releasing it to the media, so that we can comment:
• The hospitality packages mentioned in the phone conversation are so-called Venue Specific ticket-inclusive Hospitality Packages in the MATCH Business Seat category for all seven matches to be played in Rio de Janeiro, including also the final match, at the official and approved price of USD $24,750 per series. As indicated in prior statements, hospitality packages are indeed high-end ticket inclusive packages which includes various services addition to the tickets alone. Hospitality packages and their prices are fully approved by FIFA.
• Originally, in 2013, the owners of a major hotel chain in Rio de Janeiro asked MATCH Services if it could arrange for the purchase of 42 such Series for the hotel’s own use.
• MATCH Hospitality issued a Proposal to this effect and held the packages available (Proposal No. 103072).
• In late May 2014, shortly before the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the owner of the hotel chain informed MATCH Services that they could not after all proceed with such a large order for all 42 packages after all, and decided to reduce their purchase.
• To ensure there would be no material loss to MATCH Hospitality, on 23 May 2014 MATCH Services transferred funds to MATCH Hospitality to cover the full value of Proposal 103072 and by doing so assuming a risk equivalent to USD $594,000 equivalent to the 24 Venue Specific Series in the MATCH Business Seat category which proved to be surplus to the requirements of the hotel group – the official price of the Hospitality Packages multiplied by the number of packages left unsold from Proposal 103072.
• Subsequently, MATCH Services was offering to provide these MATCH Business Seats Hospitality. With the FIFA World Cup imminent, this was difficult to accomplish.
• Then, Mr Whelan was contacted by Mr Fofana by phone regarding the acquisition of ticket-inclusive hospitality packages for the final match. Mr Whelan referred to the availability of the above-mentioned 24 Series Packages, quoting a price of USD 25,000 per series, the official price of the packages, rounded up for ease of reference for conversational purposes. It was the attempted sale of these MATCH Business Seats that could be heard in the telephone conversation between Mr Whelan and Mr Lamine Fofana in last night‘s TV news.
• Mr Whelan did so in his capacity of Executive Consultant of MATCH Services, which had guaranteed the cost of the packages to MATCH Hospitality.
• It must be noted that Mr Whelan was not aware of the fact that MATCH Hospitality had internally blocked sales to Mr Fofana. The blocking of sales to companies suspected of inappropriate business practices is common and therefore it is not unusual to find that not every member of staff of every company within the MATCH group was informed.
• The 24 Hospitality packages were offered on cash basis, which is highly unusual but permitted under the various terms and conditions.
• Ultimately, the transaction for these packages with Mr Fofana never took place at all.
In summary, MATCH wishes to state that there is nothing inappropriate or criminal in the way Mr Whelan has conducted himself in the phone conversation recorded by the police. At all times, Mr Whelan referred to Venue Specific ticket-inclusive Hospitality Packages in the MATCH Business category for all matches to be played in Rio de Janeiro, as purchased by MATCH Services, merely assisting a distribution process to excess inventory. He was quoting the availability of the correct product at the correct price.
In order to prove this, MATCH is ready and willing to submit business records to establish the innocence of Mr Whelan in this respect via their lawyers to the Civil Police in Rio de Janeiro.
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