Pat Hickey arrest: Police display of suspect’s papers not unusual in Brazil

Rio officers often allow media to photograph documents of arrested people

 Pat Hickey’s passport and accreditation on show at a police briefing in Rio. Photograph:  Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Pat Hickey’s passport and accreditation on show at a police briefing in Rio. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

In a society as plagued by crime as Brazil’s, reporters working the law and order beat are some of the busiest.

They naturally build up close relationships with the police officers they spend their lives chasing. They learn to read the signs when something big is about to happen.

It was one such reporter with years of experience on Rio’s hectic crime beat that, while working on another story in the early hours of Wednesday morning, noticed that the phone belonging to a cop they knew had come back online.

They called to see what was up, but the officer said he could not talk. He was on his way to Barra da Tijuca to carry out an operation.

The reporter scrambled their team and, thinking of the rumours that Olympic Council of Ireland president Pat Hickey was now a figure of interest in the ticket touting controversy at the Rio Games, headed for the hotel where the International Olympic Committee delegation was staying.

This journalistic intuition and a certain confusion at the hotel as the police operation started meant they were on the floor to record Mr Hickey’s arrest before the police realised their presence and had them removed. But with a scoop in hand – a good day’s work was done and there was still time for breakfast.

‘Last alternative’

If understanding how the video of Mr Hickey’s arrest ended up on the web is relatively straightforward, then the legal world he is now tangled up in is decidedly less so.

The Irish photographer covering the subsequent police press conference for The Irish Times was shocked to see Mr Hickey’s passport, return air ticket and Olympic accreditation spread out on a desk for the media to photograph. But, in Brazil, this is standard practice. Such press conferences are a staple of the evening news programmes.

However, what is not exactly standard practice is holding people in Brazil while they are being investigated.

To justify the detention – since August 5th – of Kevin Mallon, the Irish man arrested for ticket touting before the Games’ opening ceremony, police say he was arrested in the act of committing a crime.

His lawyer Franklin Gomes disputes this but also argues that, given the relatively minor nature of the accusations levelled against him, his client should have been released after surrendering his passport while the investigation continues.

“In Brazil, prison is usually the last alternative. This ‘banalisation’ of prison is something that is putting the fundamental rights of all of us at risk,” he argues.

Complicated

A preliminary investigation must be concluded within 10 days of any arrest. The police file is passed to a public prosecutor and he must decide whether to formally charge the defendant and a judge must formally accept the prosecutor’s charge or else the case is dropped.

Once formally charged, the judge then decides if the defendant remains in prison or responds to the charges at liberty. In Mr Mallon’s case, the situation has been complicated by Rio’s courts being in recess during the Olympics. His lawyer’s efforts to obtain a writ of habeas corpus are now before Brazil’s supreme court.

But, as the extradition case of fugitive Irish lawyer Michael Lynn – arrested in Brazil back in 2013 – shows, petitioning the supreme court is no guarantee of swift resolution.

Mr Hickey’s lawyers are already probably arguing that, if they cannot get the charges against him thrown out, he should merely have to surrender his passport or, at most, be held under house arrest while the investigation into him continues.

The police will likely need to prove he continued to be part of some conspiracy even after Mr Mallon’s arrest.

But with one judge having already granted an arrest warrant and the rest of Rio’s courts in recess, Mr Hickey may face some uncomfortable time in police detention while he waits to see if the police have enough evidence to convince a prosecutor, and then a judge, to accept a formal charge against him.