Once more, a big black eye on the World Cup, and a big facepalm for Brazil…and a headache for Interpol:
Raymond Whelan, director of the official ticket distribution site of the 2014 World Cup, Match Services/Match Hospitality, and accused of heading an illegal ticket-resales ring, is a fugitive from justice, according to the Civil Police of Rio de Janeiro.
“Teams from the 18th Police Precinct, co-ordinated by commissioner Fabio Barucke, were in the Copacabana Palace Hotel late this afternoon to carry out a judicial order to take Whelan into preventive custody. According to the commissioner, the Englishman fled the hotel and is considered a fugitive,” says a statement from the commissioner’s office.
Whelan was arrested on Monday, July 7, along with other suspects, but was released a day later on bail. Whelan was beneficiary of a writ of habeas corpus and, after paying a fine and handing over his passport to the authorities as a promise that he would not leave the country, he left the station without setting a date to make a new statement.
On the afternoon of Friday the 11th, the Rio de Janeiro judiciary received a denunciation from the prosecutor’s office and decreed prison time for 11 accused individuals who had participated in the ticket-sales ring, Whelan among them.
For that reason, they went looking for Whelan…but he had already left the hotel.
The authorities indicated that the Briton had also left his suitcases behind and exited through a door exclusively for employees, according to images captured on closed-circuit TV.
“He is considered a fugitive,” said commissioner Fabio Barucke, who confirmed that Whelan’s name is on the list of persons being sought by Interpol.
In a press release, the Briton’s attorney, Fernando Fernandes, stated that the defence had reviewed the judge’s decision to hand down a new prison sentence, and claimed that Whelan had done his part and would promise to collaborate with the investigations, but did not mention his whereabouts.
Match Hospitality is the company selected by FIFA to sell World Cup tickets in packets reserved for businesses and to provide hotel reservations for the soccer players of the different teams and the directors of the soccer organization.
The municipality closed 20 streets from midnight Saturday and reserved 1,650 agents to direct traffic; as is customary, the fans could only reach Maracaná Stadium by public transit.
According to the prosecutor general’s office, the 11 accused will answer for offences of associating to commit crimes, illegal resale, active money laundering and corruption, and fiscal evasion.
On Wednesday the 9th, Match Services rebuffed, with harsh words for the Brazilian police, all the accusations, and assured in the form of a press release that Whelan’s arrest was “arbitrary and illegal”.
Match also deemed illegal the “leaking to the media of recorded fragments of private conversations”, in which appears that they are negotiating exclusive ticket sales in the Copacabana Palace, the hotel in which FIFA maintained its “headquarters” during the World Cup.
The clandestine purchase of tickets for the final match, whose prices reached up to 12,000 euros, has become a matter of great importance in Rio; a significant portion of Argentine fans arrived in Brazil without tickets to the match.
Police operations against illegal ticket-sellers (Argentine citizens among them) during the tournament have made life difficult for resellers, who are now more vigilant against becoming entangled in “Operation Jules Rimet”, in which the police have already analyzed half of the 50,000 telephone conversations recorded with judicial authorization, between Whelan and the suspected #2 man in the plot, the Algerian businessman Lamine Fofana, who operated a network of some 30 persons.
5,000 heavily armed military police worked on the eve of the match, attentive to what might happen after the Brazil-Netherlands match in the zones most populated by Argentine fans.
One off the police’s concerns are the “barrabravas” (Argentine soccer hooligans), 53 of whom have been taken into custody and deported back to Argentina by Brazilian police. The great majority of them belonged to a list of 2,100 violent fans who were barred from entering the stadiums in their country, and which the Argentine government handed over to their Brazilian counterpart before the World Cup began, as part of a co-operation agreement for the security of the event.
Riddle me this: How does a man who surrendered his passport to Brazilian police still manage to slip out of the country? Were the police really that incompetent, given the high security in general — and the value of this prisoner in particular? My guess is that Ray Whelan was prepared in advance for just such an eventuality, and had a backup — possibly fake — set of documents prepared for the occasion. Either that, or someone was bribed to look the other way. If the Brazilian police could detain and deport a record number of Argentine soccer hooligans, there’s no reason they couldn’t keep him in custody without bail, along with the other 10 accused corruptos they had. His high rank should be no excuse.
Meanwhile, we’ll just have to wait for his oily little head to pop up again somewhere. Now taking bets on where and when that will be…