Sunday 27 May 2018

Ten questions answered: The Rio ticketing controversy explained

Tangled web of tickets, business directors and Brazilian police

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Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

What is the ticketing controversy all about?

Brazilian authorities claim a conspiracy was hatched to profit to the tune of €2.9m from above-cost ticket touting at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

They allege the scheme involved Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) president Pat Hickey (71), British hospitality firm THG Sports and an Irish ticketing company called Pro10 Sports Management.

It is claimed some tickets were being sold for 18 times their face value.

How did the alleged scam come to light?

It all started when Irish man Kevin Mallon (35), who is a director of THG Sports, was arrested in Rio on August 5 along with his translator.

Police said he was in possession of over 800 tickets, including many which had been allocated to the Olympic Council of Ireland.

The haul is alleged to have included so-called Family and Friends tickets, which cannot be sold, and tickets for high-profile events, such as the 100 metres final and the opening and closing ceremonies.

Mr Mallon was arrested because THG was not an authorised vendor for the tickets.

Police said they had statements from seven Brazilians who bought Olympic tickets through hospitality packages offered by THG for up to €7,000.


Where does the Irish company, Pro10, come into it?

Pro10, a firm whose directors are football agents Eamonn Collins (47) and Michael Glynn (47) and financial advisor Ken Murray (41), was the sole "authorised ticket reseller", or ATR, appointed by the OCI to sell Irish tickets.

It claimed Mr Mallon, although not one of its employees, was holding tickets for its customers.

Pro10 said Ireland had a small business community and the company knew Mr Mallon was going to Rio to look after THG clients so Pro10 asked him to bring its uncollected tickets with him. Mr Mallon was doing them a favour, Pro10 said.


But the Brazilian police don't believe them?

That's correct. A senior detective said their theory is that Pro10 was created to enable the diversion of tickets to THG - with Pro10 effectively acting as "a bridge" between the OCI and THG.

Arrest warrants have been issued for Pro10's three directors and four directors of THG, Marcus Evans (52), Martin Studd (49) David Gilmore (35) and Maarten Van Os (45).

All seven have denied any wrong doing, via statements issued by their respective companies.

None of the seven has indicated a willingness to travel to Brazil to undergo questioning.


Just what is THG Sports?

THG Sports is a well established hospitality company and part of the Marcus Evans Group, run by the multi-millionaire Ipswich Town FC owner of the same name.

It was previously the OCI's authorised ticket reseller for the London 2012 Olympics and the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014.

THG also previously sold hospitality tickets for international soccer matches at the Aviva Stadium, but the FAI says it is no longer involved with the association.


Why did THG simply not just apply to the OCI to be its authorised ticket sellers if it wanted to sell tickets in Rio?

It is not known why THG did not apply for the contract.

But the answer may lie in the fact it attracted much adverse publicity in Brazil in recent years.

For example, four years ago footballer turned politician Romario raised concerns about the packages THG was marketing for the London Olympics, saying these were geared towards wealthier clientele.

He expressed fears tickets for the Rio Olympics could end up being too expensive.

Romario even sought to have Mr Hickey called before a congressional committee in Brazil, due to his role in THG's appointment for London 2012.

The politician also called on Mr Hickey to explain why his son Stephan was employed by THG at the time of the London Olympics.

Things got worse for the company in 2014 when its then chief executive, James Sinton, was detained by police investigating a so-called "ticket mafia".

He voluntarily gave a statement to police, but left the country after being released from custody while the investigation was ongoing. No further action was taken against him.


Are there any links between Pro10 and THG?

Both companies have denied there is any commercial or ownership link between them. However, in addition to the fact Mr Mallon was supposedly acting as a point of contact for Pro10 customers in Rio it also emerged that out of hours calls to Pro10's offices in Lucan were diverting to a Marcus Evans Group mailbox.

Pro10 has said THG was not paid for the manning of phones, but has not fully explained how the arrangement came about.

It seems highly likely that Marcus Evans would have personally known at least some of THG's directors prior to the controversy unfolding.

Eamonn Collins has represented a number of well-known Irish soccer players, including international striker Daryl Murphy, who plays for Evans' Ipswich Town.

Pro10 has also represented former Ipswich player Conor Sammon, who now plays with Hearts in Scotland.


Is much known about how Pro10 was appointed by the OCI to sell its ticket allocation?

Not really. On the face of things Pro10 seemed a strange choice. It was a newly set up company with no track record in handling ticketing arrangements for large events.

The OCI said it was the only company to apply for the contract and that it went through an evaluation process before being appointed.

However, the OCI has refused to answer questions about whether the contract was advertised or put out to tender.

Pro10 has also refused to answer similar questions.


Where does Pat Hickey come into the equation?

As the all-powerful president of the OCI he would have been "hands on" in the awarding of contracts to both THG and Pro10.

Brazilian police arrested Mr Hickey at his hotel room on Wednesday on suspicion of conspiracy, ticket touting and illicit marketing. If charged and convicted he could face up to seven years in prison.

One detective said: "Mr Hickey has been involved with the Olympics for more than 20 years and we believe he knew everything that went on."

Police said they were in possession of phone and email traffic between Mr Hickey and Mr Evans dating back to 2010.

A detective said one email from Mr Evans, shortly before the arrest, indirectly warned Mr Hickey to watch out.

In the days before his arrest Mr Hickey announced the OCI was conducting an investigation into how its tickets ended up in Mr Mallon's possession.

But he left Sports Minister Shane Ross "stunned" when he refused to allow an independent person to join the investigation.

Mr Ross maintained an OCI inquiry without independent scrutiny would lack credibility.

Since his arrest, Mr Hickey has temporarily stepped aside from the OCI and his role on the International Olympic Committee's executive board.


Will Shane Ross now get his way?

The minister is determined to have an independent investigation of the controversy and is in the process of setting up a non-statutory inquiry.

Following Mr Hickey's arrest, the OCI decided to ditch its own internal investigation. It said it would co-operate with whatever probe is launched by the minister. The OCI announced it would also separately commission its own independent investigation. It is thought this will be conducted by outside consultants.

THG said it would support the independent inquiry proposed by Mr Ross and fully co-operate with it.

Pro10 also said it would support an independent inquiry, but cautioned that such an investigation should respect the Brazilian legal process.

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