BRASILIA Aug 5 Brazil's top court on Tuesday ordered the release of the chief executive of a Swiss hospitality company implicated in an investigation of the illegal resale of VIP World Cup tickets.
Ray Whelan is one of 12 people accused by Rio de Janeiro state prosecutors of engaging in criminal organization, bribery, money-laundering and tax evasion in connection with a World Cup ticket "scalping" ring.
Whelan fled the luxurious Copacabana Palace hotel just before police arrived with an arrest warrant on July 10, but turned himself in to authorities four days later, saying he wanted to cooperate with the investigators. A judge ordered his detention for fear that he would skip the country.
But Supreme Court Justice Marco Aurelio Mello ruled there were no legal grounds to keep Whelan under arrest and the risk of the 64-year-old Briton escaping Brazil was not sufficient to keep him behind bars.
The judge ordered Whelan not to leave the country and noted that he had already handed over his passport to authorities, a court statement said.
Whelan is chief executive of MATCH Services, which had been granted the exclusive right to sell VIP tickets for the World Cup from FIFA, the world soccer governing body.
MATCH is the main provider of hospitality packages for the World Cup and paid $240 million for the exclusive rights to sell corporate hospitality at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups. The company said all its sales followed FIFA's procedures.
Scalping, or reselling tickets for profit, is illegal in Brazil.
Whelan was first arrested on July 7 and released on bail the next day. But prosecutors pressed for his detention, fearing he could flee Brazil, and a Rio judge issued arrest warrants for him and 10 others.
Security footage caught Whelan leaving the hotel where he was staying by a backdoor used by employees just ahead of the police. Shortly afterward, he was declared a fugitive and his name was placed on an Interpol watch list. (Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Dan Grebler)