Sunday 17 December 2017

Police in Brazil hunt for Pat Hickey's money

* Brazilian police want access to Hickey's bank accounts
* OCI boss 'wanted State funds' for son's hospitality event
* World Olympics chief says innocence must be presumed

Olympics Council of Ireland President Pat Hickey. Photo: Julien Behal/PA Wire
Olympics Council of Ireland President Pat Hickey. Photo: Julien Behal/PA Wire

Cathal McMahon in Rio, Maeve Sheehan and Philip Ryan

Police in Brazil intend to seek assistance from the authorities in Ireland to investigate bank accounts linked to Olympics Council of Ireland (OCI) President Pat Hickey and others alleged to be involved in illegal sales of tickets for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

The police commissioner in charge of the investigation has told the Sunday Independent that they believe there is a "relationship" between Pat Hickey and the UK businessman Marcus Evans, who owns THG Sports, a London-based corporate and sports hospitality company at the centre of the controversy.

Ricardo Barboza de Souza, head of the Civil Police Fraud Unit in Rio, yesterday revealed that his officers were now preparing to analyse any financial dealings as part of its probe.

He said: "We are dealing with accounts out of Brazil so we are going to need co-operation from various countries and people outside Brazil."

Brazilian authorities claim a conspiracy was hatched to profit to the tune of €2.9m.

Prison authorities at Bangu Prison in Brazil last night said that Mr Hickey is sharing a cell with Kevin Mallon of THG Sports, who was arrested earlier this month as part of the ticketing prode.

Police outside the Hotel Windsor Marapendi Hotel in Rio de Janeiro where Pat Hickey's wife Sylviane remains during his stay in prison. Pic Steve Humphreys
Police outside the Hotel Windsor Marapendi Hotel in Rio de Janeiro where Pat Hickey's wife Sylviane remains during his stay in prison. Pic Steve Humphreys

Yesterday the President of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach said that Mr Hickey was entitled to a "presumption of innocence".

Last night, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said gardai would co-operate with the Brazilian police investigation.

Also yesterday Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar revealed that Mr Hickey had sought Government financial assistance for a corporate hospitality venue run by his son at the London 2012 Olympics.

Read more: Olympics chief Pat Hickey 'sharing cell in notorious Brazil prison' with THG executive Kevin Mallon

Mr Varadkar, who was the then sports minister, rejected Mr Hickey's request. He told the Sunday Independent that officials in the Department of Transport, Sport and Tourism had "raised concerns" about the funding request as Mr Hickey's son Stephan was operating the venue known as 'Irish House'.

Mr Hickey (71) was arrested at his hotel at 6am on Wednesday on suspicion of involvement in the ticket touting scandal. He has been detained on suspicion of facilitating ticket touting, forming a cartel and illicit or unauthorised marketing.

He was taken to hospital as a precaution on medical advice and on his discharge on Thursday was questioned for two hours, but is reported to have disclosed little information.

He has now been taken to the notorious Bangu 10 prison, where he was reported yesterday to have had his head shaven.

The Bangu penitentiary complex houses some of Brazil's most dangerous inmates and is famous for its bloody gang violence. It has been the scene of murders and riots and several of its officials have been killed. In December 2005, a security chief became the fifth official from the jail to be murdered in five years.

Mr Hickey is not due to appear before a court until Tuesday, when the police are expected to present evidence before a judge.

The Brazilian authorities have issued a warrant for the arrest of Mr Evans, and several others associated with the controversy. However, informed sources here are doubtful those warrants will be executed either in Ireland or in the UK.

Senior Garda sources have privately expressed caution about an investigation into the allegations in this country, especially as there are no laws expressly prohibiting ticket touting here.

Police commissioner Mr Barboza de Souza said: "We haven't understood fully the details of the step-by-step route of the money, so that is what we are focusing on now.

"That part will be a bit more complicated because it involves international bank accounts. I'm going to try to get in contact with Interpol and the relevant countries involved. We have Ireland and the UK. I am going to contact the embassies of these countries to see how to push forward," he said.

The OCI board is due to meet today following the arrest of Mr Hickey. In a statement, the board has said it will fully cooperate with the Government non-statutory inquiry into the sale of tickets for Rio 2016, to be headed by a retired judge here. The inquiry will not have the power to compel witnesses to attend.

The OCI said on Friday that Mr Hickey was "receiving his own legal advice and is entitled to natural justice and due process". It said independent legal advisers had been appointed to advise the council's board.

It added that it "would cooperate fully with a state inquiry and it will now appoint an external independent firm to carry out a review".

FAI Chief Executive John Delaney yesterday maintained his silence over the affair. Just days before he was arrested in Rio, Mr Hickey had enthusiastically predicted that Mr Delaney would soon take his job as President of the OCI.

Read more: Revealed: The tip-off to Rio police that toppled Pat Hickey

Read more: Hickey is 'evasive' as police begin questioning on touting

Yesterday, Mr Barboza also confirmed that forensics officers are currently trawling through "several hundred" alleged emails between Mr Hickey and Mr Evans.

THG Sports previously acted as the official ticket reseller for the OCI at the London Games in 2012 and the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014.

Mr Varadkar, meanwhile, yesterday said that there had been an exchange of letters and a meeting between the OCI and the Department of Sport in 2011 in relation to the Government providing financial assistance for a corporate hospitality venue for the London Olympics.

However, at a time of severe financial cut-backs, the Department decided not to provide any funding. "I think we made the right decision not to fund it," Mr Varadkar said yesterday. He confirmed that Department officials had "raised concerns" about the involvement of Mr Hickey's son Stephan in the event.

The OCI eventually chose a large Victorian pub in London's King's Cross as its hospitality centre for the 2012 Olympics. THG Sports Tours operated 'Irish House' on behalf of the OCI, and Mr Hickey's son was hired by the firm to run the venue.

In a joint press statement ahead of the 2012 Olympics, THG chief executive James Sinton and Pat Hickey announced the location of Ireland's official hospitality venue for the games. Two years later, Mr Sinton was arrested at the 2014 Brazilian Word Cup for illegally re-selling tickets through VIP packages.

The arrest of Mr Hickey followed the arrest 12 days earlier of Kevin Mallon, an Irish man from Drimnagh who is a director of THG.

Mr Mallon was arrested in a Rio hotel in possession of OCI tickets, which police alleged he was attempting to sell for above their face value.

The offence is a crime in Brazil, punishable by a prison sentence of up to seven years. Olympic tickets are strictly controlled and can only be sold through an authorised ticket re-seller contracted by each country's Olympic Council.

The Irish sports management company that was appointed by the OCI as its authorised ticket reseller, PRO10, has been under pressure to explain how its tickets came to be in THG's hands in Rio. PRO10 and THG have at all times insisted that they have done nothing wrong.

Sunday Independent

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