RIO DE JANEIRO: FIFA’s World Cup ticketing operator Match will be back in court on Rio de Janeiro within the next 24 hours seeking the freedom from detention of arrested director Ray Whelan writes KEIR RADNEDGE.
Whelan, 64, surrendered to a court order last month after having been originally detained then freed in Operacao Jules Rimet, a police investigation into ticket-touting at the finals in Brazil.
Match Services and Whelan have always insisted on his innocence and claim that agents for the police and Public Affairs Ministry had confused the duties of Match Services and its sister company Match Hospitality.
They insist that police have failed to deliver for examination any evidence which they claimed to hold.
It is also notable that the daily prejudicial leaks from police to Brazilian media have ceased ever since the end of the World Cup.
Jaime Byrom, chairman of Match Services, said recently: “We are very keen to impress upon the authorities that they have no reason for keeping him in custody. He has roots in Brazil. Not only do they own property but the company has assets in Brazil, his son is married to a Brazilian and the company is standing very much behind him.
“There is no intention of leaving Brazil for any one of a million reasons, not least that until he clears his name we cannot drop the matter. We have to make sure that, at the end of the day, we are there to answer whatever questions or investigations are conducted.
“Our concern is that we believe this is the product of a series of misunderstandings and we don’t want it to become very difficult for the authorities eventually to exonerate Ray or release him because of the high profile of this operation.
“We can fully understand how the officers may have misunderstood what was happening. We understand the impact of being able to link their Jules Rimet operation to someone closely associated to FIFA and Match.
“But what they have to understand is that, far from incriminating Ray, with every statement they have leaked to the press, they have exonerated Ray. Otherwise it would be very easy for people to have the impression created by the media and feel that there must be something wrong, no smoke without fire.”
The tickets distraction at a superb World Cup burst into the open, to the irritation and total surprise of FIFA, on July 2 when agents for the civil police and the Public Affairs Ministry raided addresses in Rio and Sao Paulo and arrested 11 men.
One was identified as a French-Algerian 57-year-old named Mohamadou Lamine Fofana. He was said to have a home in Dubai and an office in Switzerland, his phone calls had been monitored for several months and many of these had been to a number in Zurich.
In fact, two ticket inquiries appeared to become confused. The one concerned police suspicions about tickets handled by Match while the other concerned tickets in Fofana’s possession and which had come from three national team delegations.
Police sources named the delegations as those of Argentina, Brazil. Within 24 hours Humberto Mario Grondona, the son of Argentinian FA president Julio Grondona (who is also FIFA’s senior vice-president) had owned up on television to having passed on to friends tickets he had bought, properly, through the ‘FIFA family’ system.
At this point police and Ministry sources indicated that Fofana was no longer being considered the ‘ring leader’; that role of suspicion had fallen on “an individual within FIFA.” Police claimed that the gang had been clearing more than $400,000 per game on tickets sold at up to 10 times their face value.
Subsequently Whelan was arrested for questioning before obtaining his release and then being detained again in Bangu prison.
Police took from his room at the Copacabana Palace – FIFA’s World Cup headquarter – around $1,200 in cash plus 83 World Cup tickets. These tickets, said Byrom, were company and family tickets to the final in Maracana.