World Cup scalping ring probe looks ‘to someone from FIFA’

RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazilian police who are investigating ticket scalping at the World Cup are alleging “someone from FIFA” is a source of tickets being resold for many times the face value.

Rio police Inspector Fabio Barucke on Thursday said the person under investigation was staying at Rio’s Copacabana Palace Hotel, where some of FIFA’s highly-ranked officials and MATCH Hospitality — which holds the rights to the World Cup hospitality program — are based.

Barucke confirmed 11 people were arrested earlier in the week, including Mohamadou Lamine Fofana, an Algerian man previously thought to be the ringleader of the scalping operation. Barucke said more arrests are possible.

Barucke described Fofana, who had free access to FIFA-restricted areas including the hotel, as a “middleman” and suggested the ticket source was “someone higher up” the chain. He did not give details of the person under investigation.

“He (Lamine Fofana) has tickets from hospitality, from MATCH, and he was close friends with someone from FIFA who was in the middle of that negotiation — who was helping out with that negotiation,” he said. “We were able to identify there is the participation of someone from FIFA.”

Barucke said investigators were working with FIFA, although FIFA spokeswoman Delia Fischer said football’s international governing body was still awaiting information from the police.

“Maybe this person is not FIFA,” she said. “We need to wait.”

Barucke has said the scalping ring made 1 million reals ($455,000) per game and that it used three Rio de Janeiro travel agencies “that sold the tickets at well above their face value.”

He said that the 11 people in custody confessed that they organized similar schemes in four previous World Cup tournaments and that they made close to 200 million reals ($91 million) per World Cup.

Reselling tickets at more than face value is illegal in Brazil.

Barucke said Fofana had a relationship with football players, and was living in an apartment in Rio rented for a month from former Brazilian national team player Junior Biano. Barucke said there was no evidence Biano was involved in wrongdoing.

“He (Lamine Fofana) would distribute tickets free to players,” Barucke said. “We have conversations of players who wanted to purchase tickets from him.”

Barucke said the ticket scalping ring was hoping to get 35,000 Brazilian reals ($16,000) per ticket for the July 13 final.

Police had “rich information” from 50,000 tapped telephone calls, he said. Barucke recounted one of the tapped calls in which an apparent scalper expressed surprise police were cracking down in Brazil.

“‘It was so easy in the other World Cup. I don’t know what’s happening,’” Barucke said, retelling that conversation.

The U.S. embassy in Brazil issued a statement Thursday reminding American citizens that all tickets for the World Cup must be purchased or sold in accordance with Brazilian law.

“A number of foreigners, including U.S. citizens, have been detained, arrested, and fined for attempting to illegally re-sell World Cup tickets,” the statement said. “Authorities have also reported cases of fraudulent tickets being sold around World Cup venues.”

The Associated Press has seen a ticket for the Spain vs. Chile match on June 18 with a face value of the $90 that was sold online for $775. The ticket, which was earmarked for the Afghanistan Football Federation, was purchased in San Juan, Puerto Rico, through Stubhub, a website that connects buyers and sellers.

Reselling tickets at more than face value is not illegal in the United States.

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