Ray Whelan, the British executive with close ties to FIFA who is suspected of heading a World Cup ticket scalping scam, turned himself in to Brazilian authorities on Monday afternoon.
Police had been searching for Mr. Whelan for four days, after he left through the service door of an upscale Rio hotel where he was staying alongside senior FIFA executives in town for the World Cup. Police estimated the scalping ring could have sold $96-million (U.S.) in tickets illegally.
Mr. Whelan has been charged with money laundering, participating in a conspiracy and resale of a ticket above its face value in an indictment issued by a Rio de Janeiro state court. The indictment is sealed – an unusual move normally reserved for cases involving sex abuse or children – but The Globe and Mail has seen portions of it.
Mr. Whelan’s lawyer said Monday that his client is innocent of all the charges.
The Globe has also seen parts of the police report which show the case rests heavily on a lawyer named Jose Massih, who police say described to them how the alleged resale chain worked. Mr. Massih was arrested on July 1 in Sao Paulo on charges of illegal ticket sales. He worked for Atlanta Sportif, the company of a Franco-Algerian national, Mohamadou Lamine Fofana, according to information on the firm’s website, which has now been shut down. Mr. Fofana, described in the indictment as the second person in the ring, was arrested last week in connection with the case. Local media reports described Mr. Massih as Mr. Fofana’s “right arm.”
Police say they built their case on intercepted phone calls and text messages between members of the alleged scalping ring in the course of trying to identify the source of the thousands of tickets that Mr. Fofana had for resale, and suspected it might lead them to FIFA.
On June 25, Mr. Massih was allegedly at a party hosted by Mr. Fofana in honour of former players from the Brazilian national squad in the 1970 World Cup at an upmarket bar on the shores of Rio’s lagoon. A tall white man with grey hair, wearing a shirt with a Match logo, walked in, Mr. Massih told police. “Lamine [Fofana] was totally submissive to him,” Mr. Massih told police, the report said. The report also said that Mr. Massih later identified Mr. Whelan from a photograph as the man who had walked in.
Mr. Whelan is a senior executive with Match, which had the contracts with FIFA to handle ticketing and some hospitality services for the World Cup.
The police report includes what is alleged to be a transcript of a recorded conversation between Mr. Whelan and Mr. Fofana, in which they appear to be negotiating a $600,000 sale of tickets in cash. “It’s a lot of money. It’s 24 times $25,000,” Mr. Whelan is quoted as saying in the report, in an apparent reference to the price of each of the 24 tickets Mr. Fofana is interested in buying. “I know. Can I pay in reais or in dollars?” replies the man police say is Mr. Fofana.
Match Services said the company had hospitality packages costing as much as $40,000 each, and that Mr. Whelan did nothing illegal. Match, majority-owned by the Mexican brothers Jaime and Enrique Byrom, won exclusive rights to resell hospitality packages for the 2010 and 2014 World Cups in an open tender in 2007. In 2011, that contract was extended until 2023 for all major FIFA events, including the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, in a deal worth at least $300-million for FIFA.
On the day of the World Cup final, Mr. Whelan’s life partner Ivy Byrom– who is a sister of the Byrom brothers – told a Brazilian newspaper that he intended to turn himself in but was gathering documents.
The police investigative report also provides new allegations of just what the gang was selling. In addition to tickets originally intended for the delegations of national teams, police say the scalping ring had tickets designated by FIFA for students and elderly people, escorts of physically disabled people, and workers who helped build the World Cup stadiums. It also allegedly had tickets allocated to a government fund that were supposed to be distributed to non-governmental organizations and schools.
The indictment alleges Mr. Whelan was the leader of the alleged scam and charges that he supplied a significant part of the re-sold tickets. It alleges Mr. Fofana was the second man in the hierarchy, responsible for the operation of the gang’s activities, and that his deputy was Alexandre Marino Vieira, who allegedly used two tourism agencies to distribute tickets. A retired police officer, Ozeas do Nascimento, allegedly networked with people in the football industry to try to obtain tickets that are only given to players, members of the national teams and sponsors, according to the indictment. Seven other people are alleged in the indictment to have picked up the tickets to re-sell them for higher prices, in arrangements made by phone or on Facebook.
Mr. Whelan was initially arrested on July 7, but released late that night on a writ of habeas corpus obtained by lawyers who initially identified themselves to police as working for FIFA. Two days later, police obtained a new warrant, based on the indictment filed by the prosecutor’s office, after the first part of the investigation was concluded by the police.
But just minutes before police arrived to arrest Mr. Whalen at the Copacabana Hotel last Thursday, he fled out a service door accompanied by his lawyer, Fernando Fernandes, apparently tipped off by someone in the court that issued the new warrant.
Hours later, Mr. Fernandes tried to get a new habeas corpus order. In denying the request, Judge Flavia Romano de Resende said that “if they [the suspects] are set free, they can go back to making an effort to corrupt police or intimidate other witnesses, given their great influence and economic power.” According to Brazilian media reports, one suspected member of the ring had offered police the equivalent of $23,000 to stay out of their affairs.
The Rio de Janeiro Bar Association said it has opened an investigation of Mr. Fernandes, who could lose his license if it is determined he assisted his client in evading the police.
The police investigation into the ticket operation is ongoing into more than 50,000 phone calls and text messages between alleged members of the gang that police obtained from wiretaps, hours of videotapes from Copacabana Palace hotel’s surveillance cameras and other suspects.