Sunday 26 January 2020

Ticket row deepens as Pat Hickey refuses to answer Shane Ross's questions in Rio

*OCI warns it won't co-operate with government inquiry
*Minister to get legal advice from Attorney General

Group Political Editor

The Olympic Council of Ireland has refused to answer any of Sport Minister Shane Ross's questions over the ticket touting scandal during a tense showdown in Rio de Janeiro.

OCI president Pat Hickey and the minister met at 1.30am (Irish time) this morning for what turned out to be a fruitless meeting, with Mr Hickey declining to give Mr Ross any extra information about the Irish tickets at the centre of a Brazilian police investigation.

At the meeting Mr Ross suggested to Mr Hickey that the OCI should add independent members to their investigation into the ticket controversy.

However, he was told that this would not happen - and in an extraordinary development the OCI said it will not co-operate with any independent inquiry that the Government might set up either.

In a statement, Mr Ross said: "The Minister emphasised the necessity of independence and rigour in such investigations, in terms of establishing their credibility.

"The OCI refused the Minister’s request, citing legal advice."

While speaking to reporters after the meeting, Mr Ross added that a different inquiry established by the government has not been ruled out.

He said: “I’m absolutely stunned by the reaction. I can’t believe that they will refuse an independent on their inquiry and I am looking very closely at what steps to take next. We’re certainly looking at the prospect of a different inquiry. That has not been ruled out."

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

He went on to confirm that the OCI declined to answer "any questions" relating to how Dublin businessman Kevin Mallon came to be arrested while allegedly in possession of hundreds of tickets that were intended for Irish supporters at the Olympics.

Mr Hickey, who was accompanied to the meeting by OCI vice-president Willie O'Brien, said that providing further information at this stage "might prejudice the case before the Brazilian courts".

"The OCI also stated that it would not provide any information to any third party, including any independent inquiry the Minister might establish, until such time as the case concludes.

Mr Hickey elaborated on this statement while speaking to RTÉ reporter Phillip Bromwell. He said: "(Mr Ross and I) had a great exchange of views. I’m restrained with what I can say because (I received) senior council’s opinion two days ago, which is that while there is an Irish citizen in jail that we have to be extremely careful in what we disclose.

"He is innocent until proven guilty and anything we can say in disclosing would be prejudicial to a fair trial so we can do nothing until this trial has finished its natural course.”

Read more: 'I'm fed up of seeing people being gouged for tickets' - TD's plan to end touting for sports and music events

"While the Minister accepts that due process and natural justice must take its course, he does not accept that there is any legal basis for refusing to accept independent members on the OCI’s inquiry," a statement from the Department of Sports said.

Mr Ross now intends to discuss the situation with his junior minister Patrick O'Donovan and will raise the matter with Attorney General Marie Whelan.

"A decision will be made on the basis of these consultations," he said.

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