RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – An executive from the World Cup’s hospitality services firm escaped out the back door of his plush Rio de Janeiro hotel Thursday to avoid arrest on charges of illegally selling tickets, police said.
Raymond Whelan, a British director of FIFA partner company Match Services, fled the luxurious Copacabana Palace Hotel after a judge ordered him and 10 other suspects to be held in detention, the Rio prosecutor’s office said.
“The Englishman fled through the hotel’s back door and is considered a fugitive,” Rio police said in a separate statement.
“We saw him in (security) footage leaving in a hurry,” Fabio Barucke, the case’s lead investigator, was quoted as saying by the G1 news website, adding that Whelan had fled an hour before police arrived.
Police have launched a manhunt for Whelan, who is accused of being involved with a scalping network that has sold thousands of tickets worth millions of dollars, going back to the 2002 World Cup.
Whelan, who denies the charges, was initially arrested on Monday but was granted preventive release the next day.
Police filed charges against him and 11 other suspects on Wednesday and submitted the case to prosecutors, who requested an arrest warrant against all except one who was cooperating with investigators.
Prosecutors said the 12 suspects face charges of organized crime, illegal ticket sales, corruption, money laundering and tax fraud.
Brazilian media have published leaked phone calls between Whelan and one of the chief suspects in the case, French-Algerian Mohamadou Lamine Fofana, discussing hospitality packages for games including Sunday’s final.
But Match Services has defended Whelan, saying he was innocent and that there was nothing illegal about the conversations.
The Zurich-based company says Whelan was discussing the sale of 24 hospitality packages at the correct price, though he rounded up the figure to $25,000 from $24,750 per package, and that the deal was never concluded.
Match Services said Wednesday that Whelan would voluntarily relinquish his World Cup accreditation but that he had not committed any wrongdoing.
Prior to the news of Whelan’s sudden disappearance, the executive chairman of Match Services and its sister company Match Hospitality issued a statement criticizing Rio police.
“Those responsible for the investigation from the 18th Precinct of the Civil Police of Rio de Janeiro are not experts in FIFA World Cup ticketing or hospitality,” chairman Jaime Byrom said in the statement.
“Notwithstanding our belief that the action taken against Mr Whelan was illegal and baseless, Match Services and I personally remain totally committed to assist the authorities from the 18th Precinct or any other jurisdiction in FIFA’s fight against illegal ticket sales.”
Byrom said cooperation with the authorities had led to “a number of successful arrests of actual touts.”