Friday 15 December 2017

'Russia tried to get me out of Rio prison' - says former OCI chief Pat Hickey

'The policeman thought he was in a movie...'- Former Olympic Council chief Pat Hickey tells of his humiliation and relives his heart attack trauma after Rio arrest

Kremlin call: Russian president Vladimir Putin and ex-president of the Olympic Council of Ireland Pat Hickey share a love of judo
Kremlin call: Russian president Vladimir Putin and ex-president of the Olympic Council of Ireland Pat Hickey share a love of judo
Mark O'Regan

Mark O'Regan

"It was like a Dr Who movie... the TV cameras shining in the door, the policemen, some in uniform, and the guys in the dark gear, with masks and machine guns."

Now, almost a year after Pat Hickey was hauled from a hotel room in Rio de Janeiro by police investigating the alleged illegal resale of tickets, the plot has taken another unexpected and dramatic twist.

The former president of the Olympic Council of Ireland has revealed that the Russian government tried to secure his release from prison.

Mr Hickey says he has "known Vladimir Putin" for between eight to 10 years, and that their relationship stems from a mutual love of judo.

"He's the patron of the Judo Federation in Russia and the World Judo Federation and I meet him at tournaments. He is not an honorary black belt - he's a fighting black belt. We'd talk about the stars of judo...that relationship built up between us.

"So any time I was in Russia on business, I invariably got an invitation to come and see him in the Kremlin.

"I had the privilege of being twice there to see him, once to have dinner with him but not just us on our own, there were about five or six other people, which was a great honour and great privilege."

Asked if he would look forward to seeing the Russian leader again in the future, he was definite.

"I certainly would. Let me tell you this: I know for a fact that the Russian government made representations on my behalf.

"The Polish government made representations on my behalf. The Russians were active and the Polish were active."

But Mr Hickey said given the position he found himself in, he needed representation at a certain level.

"Prime minister to prime minister, president to president, or minister to minister, and nothing like that was happening. There was zilch."

He also said while numerous countries were calling for Russia to be banned from competing in Rio because of doping offences, Mr Hickey said he "supported totally" the athletes being allowed to take part.

"You can't condemn all the athletes for the sake of the few that are caught. Lots of people didn't like that I was vocal this way."

Read more: Revealed: Rio ticketing scandal cost the Olympic Council of Ireland over €1.5m 

His arrest in a dressing gown at the luxury Hotel Windsor Marapendi made headlines worldwide.

It heralded the beginning of the end of his 28-year reign at the helm of the OCI. Recalling the dramatic night, for which members of the media were present, he said the experience was like something out of a "Dr Who movie".

When he opened the door to his son's hotel room, he was confronted by masked police officers brandishing "machine guns".

He suffered a massive heart attack "on the spot".

"The policeman thought he was in a movie. The media pay for everything over there.

"They paid the police when they arrested me in the morning, so they could have the cameras up front, and everybody saw me opening the door in my dressing gown.

"I was humiliated. It was dreadful. My son, and his wife and my grandson had just left; I was in that room because I had trouble sleeping with all the chaos. I went in there to grab quiet and peace.''

He said his wife answered the door to their room but she "panicked" after seeing "riot policemen".

"It was incredible; my wife almost passed out."

After telling them that her husband had "gone home", one officer said Mr Hickey tried to do a runner. ''She then realised the reality of life and said no, no he's next door. He then knocked on the door and I answered. I had a heart attack on the spot. I collapsed. I was a 72-year-old man with a bad heart. What were they expecting? That I'd take them on?

"I might have been a judo black belt in my youth, but I certainly wasn't up to it at 72 years of age. They had a doctor in the group of 12 when they came to arrest me. The doctor examined me and he had very serious worries about me, and that I could die. He said this man needs to be removed immediately in an ambulance to the emergency clinic. I had a massive pain in my chest, couldn't breathe, and then collapsed on the floor.

"They told me to go in and get dressed, and then I got moved to an ambulance and taken for extensive, exhaustive tests in a clinic. When I was brought to the hospital they had to sedate me; they were terribly worried about me."

Mr Hickey spent 10 days in the notorious Bangu Prison before being released.

"We had to be locked up 24 hours a day because they were afraid to admit us into the rest of the prison population.

"Our cells were beside the riot squad guard room so that they could protect us. In the 10 days I was there, with some of the admissions coming in, and the sights that I saw, I never want to see in my life again. People coming in on murder charges, and threatening to kill the guards and policemen."

After his release, he was put up in an apartment in Rio.

"I was very down. I was living in an apartment on my own and walking the streets of Rio. It's like being locked in a luxurious place, in a beautiful city like Rio, but I was restricted because it's a very dangerous place.''

He said he had to confine himself to nearby tourist areas. Elsewhere in the city was the risk of being "murdered" or "slaughtered".

In a wide-ranging interview for the Paul Williams Podcast, he said he was heartened by the messages of support he received from various coaches and athletes, including from Olympic gold medallist Katie Taylor, and her father, Pete.

"I had a great relationship with them. I was very, very instrumental in using my position on the International Olympic Committee to get ladies' boxing on the Olympic programme.

"I used to get good messages from Katie and her family through my secretary. Those kind of things were worth a million dollars."

Lawyers for the Castleknock native have warned against the publication of a State report into the Rio Olympics ticket-touting controversy, on the grounds that it could prejudice his right to a fair trial.

Mr Hickey said that, while he has not seen the final report, he and his lawyers have seen a "draft" of the report.

"The concern we have is nothing to do with what's in the report, because I'm not afraid of anything in that report.

"My Brazilian lawyers have explained to my Irish lawyers, that anything in that report that emerges can be used by the prosecution of the case in Brazil. Worse than that, anything in the media regarding the report can be used in my prosecution. That's unheard of in Irish law.

"My senior counsel and junior counsel could not believe it and they had to check again with my Brazilian lawyers that this was a fact.''

Mr Hickey is now in Dublin on bail awaiting a court date in Rio to face various charges.

He has denied all the "ridiculous charges" that have been made against him. "I'm going to prove my innocence. My law team in Brazil are working flat out," he stressed.

The Paul Williams podcast lifts a lid on the stories and lives of ordinary people doing extraordinary things and of famous Irish people behind closed doors.

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