Rio de Janeiro: The director from the Fifa partner company handling World Cup ticket packages has been released from police custody a day after being arrested in connection with an investigation into a network that illegally sold match tickets.
Ray Whelan, a former agent of England football legend Bobby Charlton, a director at Match Hospitality, was arrested at Rio de Janeiro’s luxurious beachfront Copacabana Palace Hotel — where Fifa president Sepp Blatter and other Fifa officials have been staying during the World Cup finals — days after 11 people were rounded up in a raid to dismantle the network.
However, Match Hospitality through their media director Andreas Herren — a former head of communications at Fifa — issued a statement on Tuesday saying the 64-year-old Englishman had been released.
“Ray Whelan has been released from police custody and will assist the police with further enquiries.
“Match have complete faith that the facts will establish that he has not violated any laws.
“Match will continue to fully support all police investigations, which we firmly believe will fully exonerate Ray.
“In the meantime, Ray Whelan, as well as the rest of the Match personnel will continue to work on our operational areas of responsibility in order to deliver a successful 2014 Fifa World Cup Brazil.”
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.
“Whelan denied negotiating tickets with the Franco-Algerian Mohamadou Lamine Fofana during the World Cup, but we have proof. We have 900 [intercepted] calls between the two during the tournament,” the chief investigating officer Fabio Barucke told reporters.
The investigation is looking into seven more suspects, but Barucke did not give more details.
Police claimed Whelan gave VIP tickets to Fofana that were originally for sponsors, non-governmental organisations and relatives of players. Fofana then sold them illegally with the help of travel agencies and football contacts.
Authorities said last week a Fifa official appeared to have been involved in the scheme and that the Brazilian, Spanish and Argentinian football federations are under investigation.
Fifa spokeswoman Delia Fischer said the organisation “takes note” of Whelan’s arrest and that it continues to cooperate with the investigation.