With panoramic views of the white sands of one of Rio de Janeiro’s longest beaches and not far from the Olympic Park, the five-star Windsor Marapendi hotel was an obvious choice for delegates from the International Olympic Committee.
But this week the hotel, with its rooftop pool and marble floors, has played host to the most unlikely drama of the XXXI Olympiad, with the arrest of Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) president Pat Hickey, leading to a serious crisis in Irish sport.
Mr Hickey, 71, along with eight others, is facing charges that carry a maximum seven years in jail. He is accused of allowing Olympic tickets to be diverted from the OCI, via its official reseller Pro10 Sports Management, to another company, THG Sports, that allegedly touted them in Brazil for up to €7,000 each — the equivalent of up to 18 times their original face value.
Mr Hickey was wheeled from the nearby Hospital Samaritano Barra, after reporting he felt unwell when police raided his room at 6am local time on Wednesday.
He was first taken to a city centre police station for processing and was later removed to a prison.
The Olympic Council of Ireland confirmed “that Pat Hickey has been discharged from hospital and has been accompanied to a police station to complete a deposition”.
A court order for his preventative detention means he may yet end up in Bangu 8, a notorious prison in the city’s west zone, already playing host to Kevin James Mallon, the 36-year-old Irishman arrested on the day of the opening ceremony. Police have also seized Mr Hickey’s passport.
It is a state of affairs that was barely imaginable when the Olympics began on August 5. But in fact the seeds of this investigation had been sowed much earlier.
If the detectives of Rio’s Civil Police are to be believed, THG Sports has been involved in similar sales of tickets for major events without official permission going back as far as the Rugby World Cup in 2007. In that case they eventually won a legal case against French authorities for selling unofficial hospitality packages.
By the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, detectives had first-hand experience of the modus operandi of THG Sports, owned by British millionaire Marcus Evans, who also owns Ipswich Town FC.
The company’s then chief executive, James Sinton, was arrested for touting at a hotel in Rio de Janeiro in June 2014. After paying a bond for his release, he left the country — a fact not lost on the detectives investigating the case, who have been keen to ensure Mr Hickey and others remain in Brazil.
Mr Evans, who police this week said had been in close contact with Mr Hickey since the arrests began, had been active in Brazil since 2009 — the year Rio was awarded the Olympics — when a company was registered, owned by two of his firms in the UK.
Last February, THG faced a legal action in Brazil from a company, Cosan Lubricants and Specialties, for €98,000. The story was a familiar one. The firm said it had been sold Olympic hospitality packages by THG Sports, despite the firm not being accredited to sell them. THG Sports was the authorised Irish reseller for London 2012 and Sochi 2014 but has no such rights for Rio 2016.
Then came the arrest on August 5 of Mr Mallon, a director of THG’s UK arm at a hotel in Barra da Tijuca, near the Olympic Park. Police seized 823 tickets and believe the alleged scam could have netted over €3m.
Still, the arrest of Mr Hickey was a surprise. He was found sleeping in a separate room from his wife, who allegedly told officers her husband had already returned to Ireland.
As well as Mr Hickey, those arrested or sought include five directors of THG Sports — Mr Evans, 52; Irishman David Patrick Gilmour, 35; Mr Mallon, 36; Briton Martin Studd, 49; and Dutchman Martin van Os, 45 — and three directors of Pro10: Brit Michael Glynn and Irishmen Ken Murray and Eamonn Collins.
All face charges of facilitating touting, which carries a prison sentence of two to four years; conspiracy, which has a sentence of between one and three; and illegal marketing, which carries a sentence of six months to one year.
Police took Mr Hickey’s passport, Olympic credentials, Olympic tickets, three laptops, two mobile phones, and a return air ticket.
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