The Brazilian police said they now consider Ray Whelan, the British senior director of Fifa’s official hospitality company arrested as part of a $100m ticket touting investigation, to be a fugitive.
Amid claim and counter-claim, his employer Match Services said that it was confident Whelan had done nothing wrong and said Rio police had failed to understand how their business worked.
But the investigator Fabio Barucke told Associated Press that Whelan left the Copacabana Palace hotel, where he and the majority of the senior Fifa executives in Rio are staying, through a service exit an hour before police arrived to re-arrest him.
“He’s now considered a fugitive,” Barucke said outside the hotel. “We have security camera images of him exiting the hotel through a service door.”
He said police expected to broaden their investigation into ticket scalping to include football administrators. Barucke said that police had recorded 900 calls between Whelan and the Algerian ticket broker Lamine Fofana since the World Cup began on 12 June, and that virtually all of them referred to the selling of tickets.
“Raymond knew that Fofana was a scalper, he knew that he was going to resell those tickets on the black market,” Barucke said.
Earlier this week, Match challenged police to justify the “arbitrary and illegal” arrest of Whelan, a director of Match’s accommodation service. He is a brother-in-law of the company founders Jaime and Enrique Byrom. Whelan, a former agent to Sir Bobby Charlton, is a longstanding Match employee.
Match Hospitality, the arm that sells packages to other individuals and companies around the world, has a number of shareholders including Infront Sports & Media, whose chief executive is the nephew of the Fifa president, Sepp Blatter.
Match Services, the subsidiary that deals with accommodation, ticketing and IT services for the World Cup, released a lengthy statement in which its chairman, Jaime Byrom, insisted the action against Whelan was “illegal and baseless”.
It said that tapped calls leaked to the Brazilian broadcaster Globo proved his innocence rather than implicating him.
It said the $25,000 worth of tickets under discussion with Fofana, who was among the 11 people arrested last week by police, were part of a hospitality package being sold at its published rate.
“Far from helping to incriminate Mr Whelan, they secured a nationwide audience who clearly heard Mr Whelan conduct a discussion for the possible sale of an official hospitality product.
“The 24 hospitality packages were offered on cash basis, which is highly unusual but permitted under the various terms and conditions,” Match said in a statement. “It must be noted that Mr Whelan was not aware of the fact that Match Hospitality had internally blocked sales to Mr Fofana.”
Whelan, who was first arrested on Monday when police seized tickets and other documents before being released on Tuesday morning, works out of the company’s base in Manchester. It also has offices in Zurich, close to Fifa House, and Rio. The Match group of companies has won a series of Fifa contracts to run ticketing, travel, accommodation and technology services at the World Cup since 1994.
Eyebrows were raised when Match was awarded the exclusive rights to hospitality and accommodation for the 2010 and 2014 World Cups but Fifa insisted it was an open tender. In 2011 Fifa announced that Match would continue as its exclusive contractor until 2023 in a deal said to be worth at least $300m.
The brothers initially worked at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico as independent operators and won their first Fifa contract at the 1994 World Cup in the US. In the subsequent two decades they have become closely entwined with Fifa.
Former Botswana Football Association CEO Ashford Mamelodi has confirmed that Whelan was the man appointed to coach the National Under-17 team in 1997 when the country hosted the second Africa U-17 tournament. The team toured Manchester at the time under his watch. [The Patriot on Sunday, theguardian.com]