Rio police begin to piece together OCI Olympic ticketing jigsaw
Police say Olympic Council of Ireland officials confirmed Pat Hickey in charge of ticketing
Olympic Council of Ireland’s team leader Kevin Kilty, right, and chief executive Stephen Martin leave the police headquarters in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Thursday. Police say the men are now ‘witnesses and not suspects’. Photograph: Leo Correa/AP
Once again journalists had gathered at Cidade da Polícia (Police City), the large base in a rough neighbourhood of northern Rio de Janeiro whose perimeter walls are pockmarked from the occasional bullets sent in by the drug gangs who control the neighbouring favelas.
The last stop for OCI chief Patrick Hickey before being transferred to Bangú prison a week ago today, the press were back this time for the questioning of the Irish Olympic delegation’s chef de mission Kevin Kilty, and the OCI’s CEO Stephen Martin.
They drove in shortly before their 2pm (local time) appointment with investigators, wearing their Team Ireland tracksuits. “We are here to co-operate,” was all Mr Kilty would say.
They were escorted inside and taken to the offices of NAGE, the initials for the nucleus of support for large events, including Rio’s specialist police unit set up to deal with criminal activity involving the city’s staging of the World Cup and Olympics.
Earlier in the week it had been the turn of OCI official Dermot Henihan. Like Mr Kilty and Mr Martin he had had his passport taken from him on Sunday morning in a police operation that seized another 228 OCI tickets to add to the 823 police found when they picked up Irishman Kevin Mallon just before the opening ceremony of the Games on August 5th.
On Sunday, a police statement said “at this stage” evidence indicated the three were also involved in the alleged ticket touting scheme using OCI tickets and that they would be questioned.
At the first scheduled appointment on Tuesday, Mr Henihan arrived alone, accompanied, we were informed, by a lawyer from the firm also representing Mr Hickey.
The absence of his two colleagues was explained by a change in their legal representation with their new lawyers asking for more time to study the case.
More than an hour after Mr Henihan’s arrival, the media were called together for a press conference.
During it, the news that he was no longer a figure of interest and police would be recommending he have his passport returned to him was somewhat overlooked by the release of emails from Mr Hickey appearing to offer OCI tickets to Mr Mallon’s company THG.
THG had been expressly prohibited by Mr Hickey’s own Olympic movement from selling tickets at the Rio Games.
But any hope that Thursday’s interviews would wrap up as quickly as Mr Henihan’s gradually disappeared along with the beautiful winter sunshine.
As the hours dragged on and police officers casually swinging an intimidating array of automatic weaponry checked back in from another shift on Rio’s mean streets, Irish journalists worried about late edition deadlines back home, while Brazilian TV reporters told their early evening news shows that the two gringos were still inside being questioned.
No longer suspects
As night fell word started to filter out that, like Mr Henihan, the police no longer considered the two men suspects. When they eventually appeared over four hours after going in, they again said little, with Mr Kilty rephrasing his line from earlier: “All I can say is we are very happy to have co-operated.”
As the press milled around them while their lawyer wondered where their car was, Ronaldo de Oliveira emerged from the same building to brief the media. The director of Rio’s specialised investigative units, among then NAGE, he opened by saying the two men were now “witnesses and not suspects” and that there is “a great chance” that their passports will be released back to them shortly once their testimony is cross-checked with other information gathered so far in the investigation.
Exuding the confidence of someone who believes his men “are beginning to piece together the jigsaw” he said the two OCI men’s testimony “ratifies what we already have and we are also discovering other important things which we’ll confirm and then inform you”.
His comments also hinted at conflicting versions told to police by OCI members about responsibility for its ticketing.
The court warrant ordering the seizure of the passports of Mr Henihan, Mr Kilty and Mr Martin were based on testimony given by Mr Hickey on Thursday of last week, the day after his arrest.
According to the warrant, Mr Hickey told investigators that it was a decision by the entire 12-member OCI board to nominate THG as its official ticket vendor for the Rio Olympics.
But Mr de Oliveira said testimony from Mr Kilty and Mr Martin indicated that it was Mr Hickey who was in charge of the OCI’s ticketing.
“They confirmed the role of Patrick Hickey as the big chief of this gang. This was very important. That all the actions were carried out by him,” he said.
Asked if the two men had accused Mr Hickey of criminal behaviour, Mr de Oliveira clarified his remarks.
“No, In charge of operations involving tickets. The police are working to prove that he [Hickey] carried out criminal acts.”
The OCI and Mr Hickey have repeatedly denied wrongdoing in this controversy.
After a week in detention, one habeas corpus bid rejected and the publication of incriminating emails that clarification will be of small comfort to Mr Hickey though it was enough to transform his OCI colleagues from suspects into witnesses.