, RIO DE JANEIRO, July 8- Brazilian police arrested on Monday a director from the FIFA partner company handling World Cup ticket packages, accusing him of leading a network that illegally sold game passes.
Ray Whelan, a director at Match Hospitality, was detained at Rio de Janeiro’s luxurious beachfront Copacabana Palace Hotel, a police spokesman told AFP, days after 11 people were rounded up in a raid to dismantle the network.
Local media said Whelan is a 64 year old British citizen, but police were not immediately able to confirm that.
The arrest was made on the eve of the tournament’s first semi-final game between Brazil and Germany in Belo Horizonte. Argentina and the Netherlands will face off for the final’s last spot on Wednesday in Sao Paulo.
Police say the international scalping syndicate sold thousands of tickets worth millions of dollars, going back to the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea.
The scandal is the latest to hit FIFA, which is already battling allegations that members accepted bribes from a Qatari football official to secure support for the emirate’s campaign to get the 2022 World Cup finals.
One of Match Hospitality’s shareholders is Swiss-based Infront Sports and Media, headed by Philippe Blatter, the nephew of FIFA president Sepp Blatter.
A French Algerian suspect, Mohamadou Lamine Fofana, was initially thought to be responsible for the ticket scheme after he was among 11 people arrested last week in Rio and Sao Paulo.
But suspicions moved toward an individual at Match Hospitality, the official World Cup ticket agency, which sells deluxe packages that include private suites at stadiums and gourmet catering.
Authorities intercepted phone calls between Fofana and Whelan, according to the newspaper O Estado de Sao Paulo.
– Tickets canceled –
Match Hospitality said earlier that it had canceled the tickets bought by Fofana’s company, Atlanta Sportif, for the semi finals and the final.
The hospitality firm warned that it would cancel the remaining tickets of three other companies whose names appeared in tickets seized by police unless they cooperate with the probe.
Match identified the companies as Reliance Industries Limited, Jet Set Sports and Pamodzi Sports, but did not give details about the companies’ ownership.
Reliance Industries bought 304 packages for 19 matches worth $1.2 million, including access to a private suite for all games in Rio, Sao Paolo and Belo Horizonte. Match Hospitality said 59 tickets seized last week had the company’s name on them.
One ticket was imprinted with the name Jet Set Sports, which purchased 40 packages for two games worth $108,250. The package had been allocated to an individual who resides in Australia, Match Hospitality said, without naming the person.
Another ticket had the name Pamodzi, which secured 350 packages for 18 games — including private suites and business seats worth more than $1.2 million.
Byrom plc, a Manchester, England, company, has a 75 percent stake in Match Hospitality. It also owns Match Services. Both Match firms are based in Zurich and provide World Cup ticketing and hospitality services.