Rio de Janeiro: A World Cup ticketing excutive who fled a Rio de Janeiro hotel just before police arrived to detain him is not "a fugitive," his company said.
The executive, Ray Whelan, is with his laywer, the Match company, which has close links to football`s governing body, FIFA, said. But it refused to say where he is. Rio police said that Whelan was "a fugitive" after he left a back entrance of the luxury Copacabana Palace hotel on Thursday. They warned yesterday of new measures if Whelan tries to return to Britain.
Police sought Whelan, a director of Match Services, after a judge ordered him and 10 other suspects to be held in detention over a World Cup ticket fraud alleged to be worth tens of millions of dollars. His firm insisted in a statement however that Whelan and his attorney Fernando Fernandes had not fled the hotel and that he was innocent of allegations of illegal ticket sales.
The company added, however, that it had not spoken with Whelan since his disappearance. "The CCTV images of the internal hotel surveillance system distributed to the media show that Mr Whelan did not rush from the hotel.
"Police arrived thereafter, and finding Mr Whelan was not there, simply requested that he present himself at the 18th Precinct (police station)," Match said.
Therefore "we do not believe that the term `fugitive` is appropriate under the circumstances as he is presently with his lawyer.
Match said Whelan`s lawyers would re-submit a legal challenge to the arrest order after the authorities turned down their first request overnight.
It added that there were no legal restrictions on Whelan`s movements as long as he stayed in Brazil. "Ray Whelan has not yet been granted the due process of a fair trial. Match remains absolutely confident that any charges raised against Ray will be rebutted."
The head of Rio`s civilian police, Fernando Velloso told reporters Whelan`s whereabouts were unknown and "the conduct of his lawyer who has facilitated his fleeing is dubious to say the least." Velloso dubbed Match`s protestations at what the firm called an "arbitrary" and "illegal" initial detention as a "defense strategy."
Noting FIFA was helping with the investigation, Velloso warned that should Whelan look to return to Britain then "other measures would be taken." He gave no details. Police believe the scalpers, who have been illegally selling on some 1,000 tickets a match for 1,000 each in a multimillion operation, started their activities at the 2002 World Cup.
Whelan, former agent to England legend and 1966 World Cup winner Bobby Charlton, denies the charges. He was initially arrested at his hotel on Monday, then released the next day, but his passport was seized by the authorities. Police filed charges against Whelan and 11 others on Wednesday and prosecutors requested arrest warrants for all except one who was cooperating with investigators.
The suspects face charges of organized crime, illegal ticket sales, corruption, money laundering and tax fraud.