RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — A senior executive with the official World Cup corporate hospitality provider was arrested Monday in the plush beachside hotel where FIFA President Sepp Blatter is staying, as part of a Brazilian police investigation into illegal ticket sales.
Ray Whelan, a director of Match Hospitality, was arrested at the upmarket Copacabana Palace Hotel in Rio de Janeiro used by senior FIFA officials during the World Cup. Rio police said Whelan was in custody and would spend the night in a police station. They didn’t immediately describe the charges against him.
A spokesman for Match Hospitality didn’t immediately reply to requests for comment.
Police are investigating the illegal resale of World Cup tickets on the black market and arrested 11 people and seized 131 game tickets last week — at least 70 of them for corporate hospitality.
Police said then that an Algerian man arrested as the suspected leader of the scalping ring had connections to FIFA or Match and the original source of the tickets to be sold illegally at hugely inflated prices was “someone higher up.”
Match Hospitality is the main provider of hospitality packages for the World Cup and paid $240 million for the exclusive rights to sell corporate hospitality at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups. Blatter’s nephew, Philippe Blatter, is the president of a company which is a shareholder in Match Hospitality.
Re-selling World Cup tickets for profit is illegal in Brazil and against FIFA rules. Police said they had information from 50,000 phone calls they tapped during their scalping investigation.
FIFA said earlier Monday that it had provided police with lists of telephone numbers for its staff and that of its service providers, which included Match Hospitality. Match Hospitality had also distanced itself from the ticket scalping scandal in a statement.
“Match Hospitality will be fully assisting the police in investigating the matter,” it said.
Of the more than 3 million purchasable tickets for the tournament, 445,500 were allocated to Match Hospitality, according to FIFA. Any unsold or unused corporate hospitality tickets should be returned to FIFA to be made available to the public.
Police estimated last week that the scalping ring was making 1 million Brazilian reals ($455,000) per game by re-selling tickets on the black market. They were hoping to get $16,000 per ticket for the July 13 final in Rio, they said.
The Algerian suspected to be the ringleader of the scalpers, Mohamadou Lamine Fofana, runs a company that is one of Match Hospitality’s customers. Match said Monday that Fofana’s Atlanta Sportif Management and three other companies, two of them official Match Hospitality agents, had their remaining World Cup ticket allocations blocked or canceled after some of their tickets ended up in the hands of scalpers.
Police said that Fofana was only the middle man and appeared to have access to restricted areas at the Copacabana Palace Hotel.