RIO DE JANEIRO – 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 Services, was arrested at the Copacabana Palace in Rio de Janeiro, the hotel used by senior FIFA officials during the World Cup.
Whelan was detained as part of a larger police investigation dubbed "Operation Jules Rimet." He was characterized by police investigator Fabio Barucke as being the "facilitator" who allowed a large ring of scalpers to have access to tickets.
In an emailed statement, police said Whelan was heard on wiretapped phone calls negotiating ticket prices with Algerian national Mohamadou Lamine Fofana, who they accuse of being the ringleader of the scalpers.
Whelan was arrested inside his luxury suite Monday afternoon, where police said they confiscated 82 tickets for upcoming matches, along with Whelan's computer, cellphone and other unspecified documents.
Under Brazilian law, the 64-year-old Whelan may only be charged by prosecutors after they receive the complete police investigation, which officers have 30 days to complete. Investigators said Whelan was still being questioned inside a precinct Monday evening — and that he would spend the night in jail.
A spokesman for MATCH Hospitality, the subsidiary in the MATCH group of companies implicated in the investigation, didn't immediately reply to requests for comment.
Re-selling World Cup tickets for profit is illegal in Brazil and against FIFA rules. Police arrested 11 people, including Fofana, and seized 131 game tickets last week — at least 70 of them for corporate hospitality.
Police said then that Fofana had connections to FIFA or MATCH, and the original source of the tickets to be sold at hugely inflated prices was "someone higher up." Police said they had information from 50,000 phone calls they tapped during their scalping investigation and Fofana had access to restricted areas at the Copacabana Palace.
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.
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, the group which runs ticketing, travel, accommodation and technology services at the World Cup. MATCH Hospitality had earlier 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 World Cup final in Rio, they said.
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.