Wednesday 17 January 2018

Full extent of Pat Hickey's close relationship with THG laid bare

AFTER the arrest of suspected ticket tout Kevin James Mallon in Rio de Janeiro on August 5, the Irish Olympic movement was close to meltdown.

OCI president Patrick Hickey had yet to be arrested but it was clear the police investigation was focusing on how tickets meant for the OCI ended up with Mr Mallon's employer, THG Sports.

The PR implications of the OCI's continued relationship with THG Sports - including its status as its official reseller for the 2018 Winter Games - and millionaire owner Marcus Evans weighed heavily, according to emails released this week by the Civil Police in Rio.

On August 9, public relations adviser Jon Tibbs emailed Mr Hickey, writing about creating a "paper trail" to show that they had taken action already.

"I seriously think you should send a note to the IOC asap stating that: 'Due to the alleged ticketing offences involving THG in Rio 2016, I would like to provisionally suspend their ATR status for PyeongChang 2018. This would be reviewed once the OCI and the police investigations have concluded.'

"Mark it strictly private and confidential.

"Then we have a paper trail with the IOC to show we have already taken action. We can use this with the media if / when the PyC relationship becomes public which I fear will be at any time."

In the end, with his own arrest at his five-star hotel on August 17 and 11-day stint in the Bangu 10 jail, Mr Hickey soon had greater public relations problems.

But the full extent of Mr Hickey's closeness to THG Sports, which was the OCI's official reseller in 2012 and 2014, and Marcus Evans has only emerged slowly.

"The bond between THG and the Irish Olympic Committee is very strong," Ricardo Barboza de Souza, the detective leading the investigation said. "There are message exchanges between the president of the committee and Marcus Evans dating to 2010. It shows a very close bond between them, beyond the commercial."

Indeed, perhaps the most remarkable element of the emails released this week is the extent to which Mr Hickey was prepared to lobby the most senior Olympic officials, including IOC president Thomas Bach, in a failed effort to maintain THG's de facto status as the reseller of tickets for the Irish Olympic authorities.

Ronaldo Oliveira, the head of specialised operations at the Civil Police, said: "We are interested in talking to Thomas Bach, he has already been cited several times. He could very much help clarify the work of the Civil Police to settle some doubts because he was mentioned in several emails."

The Civil Police last night announced they had concluded their inquiry into the ticket touting scandal. Prosecutors filed charges against the nine individuals earlier this week and a court is expected to decide soon whether to proceed with the case.

Mr Hickey (71) and Mr Mallon (36) are among 10 suspects. Charges have been put before a judge including ticket touting, forming a criminal cartel, illicit marketing, embezzlement, tax evasion and money laundering. Prosecutors have not specified which individuals will face which charges.

Police also named OCI sports director Martin Burke as a new suspect. A hard drive seized from the OCI's office in Rio was his responsibility and contained a file named "THG additional tickets", they said.

But the OCI has insisted that it has received no contact from Brazilian police about this latest matter.

At home in Ireland, cracks began to emerge in the Olympics grassroots support. Basketball Ireland chief executive Bernard O'Byrne wrote to OCI acting president William O'Brien, asking how and why "matters developed as they did in Brazil".

Mr O'Byrne also pointedly asked: "Do we support Pat Hickey?"

Yesterday, the OCI crisis management sub-committee appointed Deloitte to conduct an independent review of the OCI's governance arrangements under its current constitution.

It will prepare a draft report to include recommendations on governance principles that may lead to changes to the OCI memorandum and articles of association/constitution.

Any other matters that Deloitte identifies during the course of its work and deem to be relevant will be included.

The initial exercise will be concluded within a month and the report will then be shared with the OCI executive committee.

It is expected that all agreed changes to the OCI constitution will then be put to an extraordinary general meeting.

Meanwhile, Mr Hickey's fate remains in the hands of the Brazilian authorities.

Irish Independent

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