RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Brazilian police arrested Europe’s top Olympic official in a dawn raid of his Rio beachfront hotel on Wednesday, in connection with an investigation into ticket scalping at the Olympics.
The police said they had discovered evidence linking 71-year-old Irishman Pat Hickey to an international scheme to illegally pass Olympic tickets to touts who were reselling them at well above their original price.
Police said they had also issued arrest warrants for three executives of Dublin-based PRO10 Sports Management. They are recommending charges against Hickey and the executives for illegal ticket resale, criminal association and fraudulent marketing. Prosecutors had yet to decide on any charges.
Police allege PRO10 funneled tickets to another company, THG Sports, whose director was arrested this week in Brazil. PRO10 and THG have denied wrongdoing. Hickey has not responded to calls for comment.
Hickey was detained at the hotel Windsor Marapendi, near the Olympic Park. After he complained of chest pain, he was taken to nearby Samaritano hospital so his condition could be assessed.
“The man who was arrested is 71 years old and he was frightened when we arrived at 6 o’clock in the morning. We contacted the hotel doctor who treated the man as cautiously as possible,” police chief Ricardo Barbosa said.
“He was a bit afraid and was taken to hospital. He had pre-existing heart problems.”
A second police commissioner, Aloysio Falcao, said Hickey’s wife had opened the hotel room’s door to police: “She said that her husband had already left the hotel but we took a look around (the room) and we found his credentials.”
“We decided to do a sweep of the floor and we discovered Mr Patrick in the neighboring room, where his son was.”
Hickey will remain in hospital for at least 24 hours, the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) said.
Police said Hickey would be taken for questioning once he was able to leave hospital and would then be held in the Brazilian prison system.
However, his lawyers can argue for special conditions given his age and health. Typically courts in Brazil agree to house arrest or allow foreigners to return home.
Hickey has temporarily stepped down as an executive board member of the International Olympic Committee, as president of the European Olympic Committee and as vice-president of the Association of National Olympic Committees.
The OCI said Hickey, its president, was stepping aside from all his Olympic functions until the matter was fully resolved, and was being replaced by William O’Brien.
O’Brien visited Hickey on Wednesday evening.
“He (Hickey) has made no comment because as you can understand he’s having all sorts of tests so he has made no comment to us about the allegations. We have very little restricted access to him,” O’Brien said outside the hospital.
“We will defend ourselves to the hilt.”
IOC spokesman Mark Adams said the allegations concerned 1,000 tickets out of a total of 6.5 million that were made available for the Rio games.
Police have not questioned other officials of the IOC, which is ready to give any assistance to Brazilian authorities, he said. “We have full confidence in the system. Everybody is innocent until proven guilty,” Adams added.
Police said the three PRO10 executives did not travel to the country for the Games and were considered “fugitives”.
PRO10 says on its website that it is the Irish authorized ticket reseller for the Games. It said in a statement that it had always acted properly and had cooperated fully with Brazilian authorities.
Ticket touting is illegal in Brazil and police and prosecutors have been cracking down on the practice since the country has hosted the globe’s two biggest sporting events, the 2014 World Cup and now the Olympics.
During the World Cup, police arrested high-level figures of the official Cup corporate hospitality provider for funneling tickets to touters. At that time, authorities estimated the touting ring was making 1 million reais ($310,000) per match.
Hickey was a member of the IOC’s coordination commission for the Rio Games, the body in charge of overseeing preparations for the first Olympics held in South America.
His arrest comes after police last week detained a director of THG Sports, an international sports hospitality company, Kevin Mallon, and a translator employed by the company, alleging that they could have made 10 million reais ($3 million) from buying tickets and reselling them at a higher price.
A Brazilian judge on Monday ordered the arrest of four more THG Sports executives on accusations of fraudulent ticket sales at the Olympics.
THG has rejected the accusations against the company and Mallon, saying that more than 1,000 tickets seized by police were being held legally on behalf of PRO10 and criticizing local Olympic organizers.
THG Group is owned by Marcus Evans Group, which also controls English soccer club Ipswich Town.
Hickey is a former judoka and is honorary life president of the Irish Judo Federation. He has been head of the OCI since 1989. In 2015, he led the first European Games organized by the EOC in Baku, Azerbaijan.
Additional reporting by Daniel Flynn, Caio Saad, Karolos Grohmann, Rodrigo Viga and Conor Humphries; Editing by Mark Bendeich and Alison Williams