Friday 21 October 2016

From prison to fine dining - Pat Hickey's whirlwind fortnight

His legal team insists there's no proof of any offence, but former OCI chief faces uncertain future as police continue probe into ticketing

Cathal McMahon

Published 03/09/2016 | 02:30

Journalist Cathal McMahon (right) speaks to Pat Hickey (centre) in Rio de Janeiro Photo: Steve Humphreys
Journalist Cathal McMahon (right) speaks to Pat Hickey (centre) in Rio de Janeiro Photo: Steve Humphreys

Sitting in a trendy restaurant in Rio de Janeiro's most exclusive district, Pat Hickey must have felt like he was back in familiar territory this week.

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Surrounded by office workers tapping on their smartphones, the Castleknock native did not look out of place in his light blue shirt, beige trousers and freshly polished shoes.

He may have even been forgiven for thinking the previous two weeks had all just been a bad dream.

But little more than 24 hours earlier, the 71-year-old was dining in a cell at Brazil's largest and most notorious prison.

It was less than a fortnight before that the former Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) president made global headlines when he was arrested naked in a hotel room in the five-star Windsor Marapendi in Barra de Tijuca.

The Windsor is a short distance from the restaurant in the upscale Leblon district, where Mr Hickey was dining with his lawyer on Wednesday afternoon but the distance his life has travelled since he last saw the hotel's plush entrance must seem like light years.

Trying to make sense of it all is difficult and confusing, while attempting to predict what will happen next is near impossible.

In recent weeks, the story has moved faster than Usain Bolt and has more twists and turns than a canoe slalom.

But it appears to have begun four years ago when Brazilian footballing legend Romario - now a politician - spoke in the country's senate, setting off the bizarre chain of events.

Read more: 'I will fight this 100pc': Pat Hickey speaks out for first time about arrest

He also raised concerns on his personal website regarding the contract for ticket sales for Ireland for the 2012 London Olympic Games.

On August 5 this year, Dubliner and THG director Kevin Mallon was arrested at the Edifício Next in Rio.

Police claim they weren't fully aware at the time of what they were about to expose when they discovered 823 Olympics tickets in his room.

Many of these passes, as we now know, had been allocated to the OCI and then issued to the OCI's authorised ticket reseller (ATR) Pro10.

The OCI originally nominated the Marcus Evans-owned THG as its ATR but this was refused by the Games' organisers.

There was a history between THG and Brazilian authorities. On June 17, 2014, during the Football World Cup, James Sinton, CEO of THG Sports, was arrested in a hotel in Rio for unauthorised sales of 'packages' for matches. Sinton was released after paying a fine - and immediately left the country.

Brazilian civil police were determined that this wouldn't happen again and Mr Mallon was immediately moved to the maximum security Gericino Penitentiary - known locally as Bangu - while questions began to be asked about how the tickets came into his possession.

THG and Pro10 denied any wrongdoing, while Sports Minister Shane Ross parachuted himself into Rio for a summit meeting before being promptly "put back in his box" by Mr Hickey.

Read more: OCI paying €2k for freed Hickey's Rio apartment

But just 60 hours later, Mr Hickey was put in a box of his own when the Rio civil police, led by Ronaldo Oliveira and Ricardo Barbosa de Sousa, came knocking at his hotel door.

The entire arrest was captured by ESPN Brazil and this video was subsequently broadcast across the world. The footage has sparked an angry response from Mr Hickey's family.

After a brief stay at a Rio Hospital, Mr Hickey was moved to Bangu prison, where he was placed in the same cell as Mr Mallon - a man who he denied having any previous knowledge of.

With little access to the outside world, except for their lawyers, the two men would have struggled to keep abreast of developments.

On Sunday, August 21, three members of the OCI committee - chief executive Stephen Martin, Chef de Mission Kevin Kilty, and Honorary General Secretary Dermot Henihan - had their computers, phones and passports seized by police after Mr Hickey told police all decisions regarding ticketing were made on a committee basis.

The media circus surrounding Mr Kilty, Mr Henihan and Mr Martin ultimately fizzled out with the confirmation that the men were witnesses and not suspects in the case.

The so-called OCI 3 will shortly make their way back to Ireland and many believe that Mr Mallon and Mr Hickey will follow shortly after.

Last weekend, the men's legal teams finally clicked into gear. Mr Mallon's slick, Sao Paulo-based solicitor, Franklin Gomes, pulled an all-nighter in the courts to secure release papers.

Read more: Hickey is released from Rio prison and vows to fight charges

Freedom would come at a cost for the THG director. He was handed an 8pm curfew, forced to surrender his passport, told not to attend any events surrounding the Paralympics and ordered to wear an electronic tag.

High-fives all around and with a piece of paper in hand, Mr Gomes headed straight for Bangu to rescue his client only to be told that they had no electronic tags available. Not put off by this, the lawyer went back to the court, and secured a waiver.

A little over two days later, and with no less drama, Mr Hickey was also freed by his own legal team on the grounds of his "critical health". Bureaucracy in the chaotic courts meant that he was forced to spend an extra night in Bangu.

Whether either man will be returned to the prison remains to be seen. After the displays of force put on at multiple press conferences, the Rio police were noticeably more relaxed on Tuesday evening.

Tellingly, Commissioner Aloysio Falcao, a target of Joe Duffy on 'Liveline' during the furore, said that the pressure has reduced as the "media had left town".

Nevertheless, the police are determined to interview Mr Mallon again this week. They say that they have what they need from Mr Hickey for the moment and are seeking to trawl through his bank accounts. Legal teams for both men say that prosecutors have no substantive proof that a crime or crimes were committed.

And it would be hard to see how either case would get past the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in Ireland.

But in a week in which Brazil has just impeached President Dilma Rousseff, the fate of both Mr Mallon and Mr Hickey is still uncertain.

Irish Independent

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