RIO DE JANEIRO: Ray Whelan, executive consultant of FIFA’s World Cup ticketing operator Match, has been freed by a court on Rio de Janeiro in the latest twist in Operacao Jules Rimet, writes KEIR RADNEDGE.
Whelan, 64, surrendered to a court order last month after having been originally detained then freed in the police investigation into ticket-touting at the finals in Brazil.
Lawyers representing Whelan and Match Services went back to court today, armed with various sureties, to seek his release from Bangu prison.
Whelan has 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. Match also complained that police had failed to deliver for examination any evidence which they claimed to hold.
Appeal Judge Marco Aurelio Mello ruled that, while the charges were serious, holding Whelan in custody served no purpose considering that he had surrendered his passport.
There were no grounds to suppose that he would seek to leave the country illicitly nor was there any firm evidence that Whelan might seek, as the original court had ruled, to tamper with evidence.
Whelan’s lawyer, Fernando Fernandes, said: “The judge showed that Brazil has not only the capacity to organize a FIFA World Cup but has a constitution that must be respected.” Fernandes said the next step was to obtain acces to the evidence which the prosecution purports to hold but which it has thus far withheld.
Jaime Byrom, chairman of Match Services, said recently: “The authorities 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.”
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 the day after the World Cup Final.
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.