Monday 26 September 2016

How Delaney was dragged into the Rio Olympics ticketing trawl

A deposition by Pat Hickey led to police issuing warrants to seize the passports of the soccer chief and other officials. Maeve Sheehan on the collateral damage of Riogate

Published 28/08/2016 | 02:30

UNDER PRESSURE: John Delaney, the Olympic Council of Ireland vice-president and the FAI’s chief executive, has remained silent on the ticketing controversy. Photo: David Conachy
UNDER PRESSURE: John Delaney, the Olympic Council of Ireland vice-president and the FAI’s chief executive, has remained silent on the ticketing controversy. Photo: David Conachy

Last week, Brazilian investigators cast the net wide in their probe of the ticket-touting scandal at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and John Delaney, the most influential man in Irish football, found himself dragged into the biggest controversy to hit Irish sport in years.

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If Brazilian police are to be believed, the chief executive of the Football Association of Ireland has Pat Hickey to thank for what is yet another twist in the unfolding saga of Riogate.

The day after his arrest at his Rio hotel, the president of the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) Pat Hickey was discharged from his hospital bed for an appointment with Brazilian police about alleged illegal ticket touting.

The Brazilian Olympic authorities had refused to sanction THG to be an Authorised Ticket Re-seller for Ireland during the Rio Games. When a director of THG, Kevin Mallon, from Drimnagh in Dublin, was caught in possession of more than 800 tickets allocated to the OCI on the opening day of the Games, he was thrown in jail while police launched an international investigation into illegal sales of Olympic tickets.

Pat Hickey said he didn't know and had never met Mallon. But police claimed that emails and text messages on a laptop and mobile phones they seized from his hotel room showed that Hickey did know Mallon's boss Marcus Evans, the millionaire sporting entrepreneur and owner of THG.

Police claimed they had evidence that the two men had been in contact as far back to 2010 and right up to the day after Kevin Mallon's arrest in Rio, when Hickey allegedly texted Evans saying: "Call me."

Police claimed Pat Hickey told them he had not acted alone in selecting the Olympic Council of Ireland's Authorised Ticket Re-seller for the 2016 Games; he claimed the decision was taken by the board.

With that, the spotlight turned to some of Hickey's colleagues in the OCI. Armed with Hickey's deposition, police obtained warrants to seize the passports of six senior figures in the OCI, so they could interview them before they left the country.

The "search and seizure" warrant names William O'Brien, John Delaney, Dermot Henihan, Linda O'Reilly, Kevin Kilty and Stephen Martin and states that they were "mentioned by Patrick Joseph Hickey in his testimony to the police."

The two most senior people on that list are Delaney, who is second vice-president of the Olympic Council of Ireland, and Willie O'Brien, who is first vice-president, but stepped up to the role of president after Hickey''s arrest.

Hickey has anointed both men as his potential successors, suggesting that O'Brien would lead the OCI to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 with Delaney the favourite to take the baton after that.

When police moved to execute the six warrants on Sunday morning, Willie O'Brien was en route back to Dublin while John Delaney had not travelled to Rio.

Brazilian police have not accused Delaney of doing anything wrong - and there is no suggestion that he did. When the Brazilian detective Aloysio Falcao was asked at one of the typically expansive press police briefings last week why they wanted to speak to John Delaney, he replied: "We wanted to know about his involvement in this case but he didn't come to Brazil." He continued:

"Patrick Hickey said in the police station that all the decisions were made by the executive council and these guys are the big guys in the OCI."

But after interviewing two of the three OCI officials who remained in Rio last week - Kilty, chef de mission, and Martin, the chief executive - police had turned their focus back on Hickey. Henihan, the honorary general, secretary, was also interviewed. Police said afterwards none of the three were suspects.

Kilty and Martin "collaborated and confirmed the participation of Patrick Hickey as the big chief of this operation. All practices are determined by him. We were able to put together the jigsaw and we will soon have more actions," said Ronaldo de Oliveira, the director of Rio's specialised investigative units.

The Brazilians' willingness to divulge their suspicions almost daily has complicated matters for those who have found themselves caught up in the affair.

In the world of Irish sport, there are inevitable interconnecting circles. One of the common links in the ticketing scandal is football, and John Delaney is the football man on the Olympic Council of Ireland.

Delaney, a qualified accountant, ran several businesses before following his father, Joe Delaney, into football. His father was treasurer of the FAI for years. Delaney started off as secretary of Waterford United, joined the board of the FAI, and in 2004 became chief executive. He also took a seat on the board of the Olympic Council and in 2014 became second vice-president.

Delaney has encountered the Marcus Evans company, THG, in both his OCI and FAI roles. In 2010, the Football Association of Ireland agreed a contract with THG to sell corporate tickets for one part of its stadium.

That same year, Pat Hickey selected THG to be the Olympic Council of Ireland's Authorised Ticket Re-seller for the London Olympic Games in 2012. According to police, he was on email terms with Evans. In one email dated March 30, 2010, he communicates to Evans his intention to win the maximum ticket allocation for Ireland.

Two years later, THG was caught up in an alleged ticket-touting scam in Brazil and the firm's chief executive James Sinton was detained. That may not have helped THG's chances when it applied to be an Authorised Ticket Re-seller for the Rio 2016 Games. The Rio Olympic organisers declined its application.

In 2015, the OCI nominated Pro10 - a newly formed company with no track record in international ticketing - as its Authorised Ticket Re-seller, and its application was approved last year.

The directors of Pro10 are Eamonn Collins, Michael Glynn and Ken Murray. All three are well-known in football circles.

Collins is a former soccer player who briefly ran St Patrick's Athletic football club in Inchicore in Dublin a decade ago. He is now a soccer agent, and his clients include former players for Ipswich Town football club which, of course, is owned by Marcus Evans.

Brazilian police have shared with the media their suspicions about what was going on with Ireland's ticket allocation for the Rio Olympics.

According to their press briefings in Rio, police allege that when the Rio organisers refused to authorise THG as an official ticket agent for the games, Pro10 was used as "a bridge" to channel OCI tickets to THG, thus circumventing the ban.

Arrest warrants for the three directors of Pro10 and for Evans and his co-directors remain live. Pro10 and THG have denied any wrongdoing. In any case, ticket touting is not a crime in Ireland.

As the OCI's most prominent member after Hickey, Delaney has come under pressure to speak out. Politicians on all sides of the political divide called on him to make a statement last week, with Noel Rock, the Fine Gael TD, saying it would "help clear the air" while Fianna Fail's Kevin O'Keeffe agreed "it would be better if he said something".

Delaney, like his fellow members of the OCI board, has yet to comment publicly on the affair. However yesterday there was a statement of sorts in the form of an apology in the pages of the Irish Daily Mail.

The apology said Mr Delaney "had no role whatsoever" in the granting of the ticketing licence for the OCI's ticket allocation for the Rio Olympics. He "does not have an executive role" but is a voluntary unpaid member of the board.

For now, it looks like Pat Hickey is on his own.

Sunday Independent

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