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Reliance in World Cup ticket controversy

Mukesh Ambani-controlled Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) has found itself in the midst of a controversy in Brazil, with investigations by the Rio Police showing the FIFA World Cup tickets originally sold to the company made their way into the black market.

The police had on Monday arrested Raymond Whelan, a top official of Match Hospitality, one of FIFA’s hospitality partners, as part of ‘Operation Jules Rimet’, the local police’s ongoing probe into touting of tickets that has led to 12 arrests through phone-tapping and other ways.

According to the FIFA rules, resale of tickets booked for corporate customers from a hospitality partner is illegal; unused tickets have to be returned to FIFA for sale to the public. The names of the companies buying tickets from a hospitality partner are printed on the tickets; this makes it easier for the police to trace sellers. Match Hospitality had barred RIL and a few other companies from further sale of tickets till the probe into illegal sale of $ 100 million worth of tickets was completed, a statement by Switzerland-based Match said.

When contacted, a spokesperson for RIL said a company called Octagon had purchased hospitality packages, including tickets and VIP services, on behalf of Reliance. “Octagon works with FIFA and its sponsors. We have appointed it as our agent to buy some hospitality packages. It has been handling the tickets and packages. At Reliance, we always comply with rules and regulations and are unaware of any such incident. We are investigating the issue.”

Match said RIL’s name was printed on 59 hospitality-package tickets seized at the time of last week’s arrests and that RIL, as a customer of Match, had purchased hospitality products comprising access to private suites for all 19 matches in Rio, Sao Paolo and Belo Horizonte. It added RIL had purchased an aggregate of 304 packages, worth $ 1.2 million (Rs 7.2 crore), for 19 matches. As part of the purchase agreement, RIL and other companies had accepted a strict prohibition on resale of any package.

Apart from RIL, the other companies caught in the scandal are Atlanta Sportif, whose chief executive Lamine Fofana was one of those arrested in Rio de Janeiro; New Jersey’s Jet Set Sports; and Nigeria’s Pamodzi.

“(They) are to cooperate with Match by helping the authorities in their inquiries on the hospitality packages found in Fofana’s possession with their names on them,” said Match. “Failing that, Match will cancel their tickets for the semi-final and the final.”

Match said it had sold more than 290,000 hospitality packages to some 11,400 corporate and private customers. All sales had been carried out on the basis of contractual agreements with stringent terms and conditions, to which sales agents and customers were bound to adhere — most specifically, the one prohibiting resale of such packages.

“Match Hospitality will continue to investigate and cooperate with the police in tracing their path to any illegal resale. It remains committed to preventing the illegal resale of 2014 FIFA World Cup tickets,” it said.

The company, the main provider of hospitality packages for this year’s World Cup, had paid $ 240 million for the exclusive rights to sell corporate hospitality for the 2010 and 2014 World Cups.

Meanwhile, the Rio police said Whelan was arrested after his name repeatedly came up in telephone conversations and other documentation that last week led to the nabbing of 11 people. According to the Associated Press, the Rio police had said at that time that the probe suggested a FIFA official had helped the detained ring of ticket scalpers.

Police had said last week that Fofana, a French-Algerian national, had free access to restricted FIFA areas and received up to $ 450,000 per game by re-selling tickets.

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