Brazilian police on Monday arrested 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 — the official World Cup ticket agency — was detained at Rio de Janeiro’s luxurious Copacabana Palace Hotel, days after 11 people were rounded up in a raid to dismantle the network.
Lead investigator for the case, Fabio Barucke, said Whelan faces charges of facilitating the distribution of tickets for illegal sale and criminal conspiracy. If found guilty, he faces four years in jail.
Local media reported that Whelan is a 64-year-old British citizen and that about 100 tickets were found in his hotel room.
The arrest was made on the eve of the tournament’s first semi-final game between the hosts and Germany in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
Police say the international scalping syndicate has sold thousands of tickets worth millions, 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 its members accepted bribes from a Qatari soccer official to secure support for the emirate’s campaign to host 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 behind the ticket scheme when arrested along with 10 others last week in Rio and Sao Paulo, but suspicions moved toward an individual at Match Hospitality.
“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,” Barucke said.
The investigation is looking into seven more suspects, but Barucke did not give more details.
Police say Whelan gave VIP tickets to Fofana that were originally for sponsors, non-governmental organizations and relatives of players. Fofana then sold them illegally with the help of travel agencies and football contacts.
Authorities last week said a FIFA official seems to have been involved in the scheme and that the Brazilian, Spanish and Argentine soccer federations are under investigation.
FIFA spokeswoman Delia Fischer said the organization “takes note” of Whelan’s arrest and that it continues to cooperate with the investigation.
Match Hospitality said it has canceled the tickets bought by Fofana’s company, Atlanta Sportif, for the semi-finals and the final. The firm warned that it would cancel the tickets of three other companies whose names appeared in tickets seized by police unless they cooperate with the probe.