Monday 18 December 2017

Shane Ross turns to Attorney General for help in finding answers to Olympic ticketing scandal

310 tickets seized by police in hotel room were already sold

Kevin Doyle and Ryan Nugent

Sports Minister Shane Ross is to turn to the Attorney General for help in finding answers to the Olympic ticketing scandal - just a month after describing her legal advice as "simply an opinion".

The minister wants the AG, Marie Whelan, to come up with a way for him to force the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) to supply information on how almost 800 Irish tickets for the Games ended up in the hands of alleged touts.

The move comes after Mr Ross was stonewalled by OCI president Pat Hickey during an hour-long meeting in Rio de Janeiro.

Mr Hickey declined to disclose any details of the arrangement between OCI and a company called PRO10 that allowed for the redistribution of unsold tickets.

Read more: Police seek arrest of second Irish man over alleged Olympic ticket touting in Rio

Mr Ross said afterwards that he was "absolutely stunned" by the OCI's "brick wall" approach and its refusal to allow an independent person observe its investigation into the controversy.

Sports Minister Shane Ross Photo: Tom Burke
Sports Minister Shane Ross Photo: Tom Burke

During a tense meeting, Mr Hickey offered no compromise on the issue and even said that his officials would not engage if the Government set up its own inquiry.

He said the OCI had received advice from a senior counsel that to do so could impact on the case of Irishman Kevin Mallon, who is currently in a Brazilian prison.

Mr Mallon was arrested, along with a translator, more than a week ago while allegedly in possession of hundreds of tickets for Olympic events.

In an embarrassing development, Mr Ross is now to seek guidance from the AG before deciding how to proceed.

Just over a month ago, Mr Ross seriously undermined Marie Whelan's authority after she had told the Cabinet that a bill proposed by Mick Wallace in relation to fatal foetal abnormality was unconstitutional.

Mr Ross said that the AG would not force him and his Independent Alliance colleagues to vote against their consciences, adding: "I think the Attorney General's advice is simply an opinion."

His office yesterday failed to answer questions about the level of contact between Mr Ross and the AG ahead of the showdown with Mr Hickey.

However, well-placed sources told the Irish Independent that the minister had not sought advice in advance of the meeting.

OCI president Pat Hickey Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
OCI president Pat Hickey Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

The OCI has received €1.7m in state funding between 2013 and 2016.

Fianna Fáil's Timmy Dooley last night said Mr Ross "got a left hook from Pat Hickey because he went over ill-prepared.

"The fact that he is now going to rely on the Attorney General, whose credibility was undermined a few weeks ago, will give cold comfort to those who want this debacle brought to a head," Mr Dooley told the Irish Independent.

Read more: Minister says OCI funding to be reviewed over scandal

"We need to initiate an inquiry but the minister has been flying by the seat of his pants."

Mr Ross was also scheduled to meet International Olympic Committee (IOC) director general Christophe De Kepper last night - but a spokesperson's only comment on that encounter was that he "held a number of meetings with interested parties".

Meanwhile, as the controversy deepened, the companies involved refuted claims of any wrongdoing. PRO10 told the Irish Independent that of the 781 tickets seized by police, around 470 were unsold due to lack of interest.

The other 311 had been purchased as part of corporate packages by customers from Ireland and other EU countries.

The company said that Kevin Mallon volunteered to act as a middle man for it in Rio as it "was not financially viable for PRO10 to have someone on the ground when it became obvious that tickets were not selling for the Olympics.

Read more: Olympic heat: I want to see the money trail, Minister Ross tells OCI president

"Kevin Mallon would be in Rio and could act as the collection point for PRO10, which is totally legal and for which he was not being paid," a spokesperson said.

Any individual who had not received their tickets would be refunded, they pledged, adding: "Fortunately, due to the extremely low attendances at these Olympics, the vast majority of our clients have been readily able to source replacement tickets for the events they wish to attend from other authorised ticket resellers."

THG Group, the ticket company whose directors include Mr Mallon, said the Olympic organising committee and local authorities had "an agenda to impede the legitimate activities of THG in order to support the activities of their locally approved hospitality provider".

In a statement, the company said the allegations against Mr Mallon were "entirely without foundation".

"At no time did Kevin Mallon sell or seek to sell tickets for the Rio Olympic Games," it added.

Irish Independent

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