World Cup tickets: Ray Whelan 'flees arrest'

Ray Whelan was briefly arrested on Monday but released after questioning, as Ben Brown reports

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Ray Whelan, head of Fifa partner Match Hospitality, has fled to escape arrest in Rio over alleged illegal World Cup ticket sales, Brazilian police say.

Police chief Fabio Barucke said Mr Whelan was officially considered a fugitive from justice.

Earlier on Thursday, a judge accepted an indictment for Mr Whelan - who is British - and 11 others.

An international gang is said to have earned some $90m (£52m) per tournament and may have acted at four World Cups.

The gang is believed to have been making money by acquiring and illegally selling on VIP tickets and hospitality passes.

Mr Whelan, 64, was first detained on Monday at the exclusive Copacabana Palace hotel in Rio de Janeiro and released after questioning.

The other 11 suspects were arrested last week.

In a statement after his arrest, Match Hospitality denied any wrongdoing by Mr Whelan, and said he would co-operate with any investigation.

Investigators told the BBC's Wyre Davies that the scam was on an "industrial scale" - first broadcast 6 July

However, police in Rio said they went to Mr Whelan's room in the Copacabana Palace but he was no longer there and they were told he had left an hour earlier.

Mr Barucke said outside the hotel: "We have security camera images of him exiting the hotel through a service door."

Brazilian newspaper O Globo, quoting police, said Mr Whelan had fled the hotel with his lawyer Fernando Fernandes, who was now negotiating with officials over the terms on which his client would present himself to police.

After his initial arrest, Mr Whelan was reported to have surrendered his passport and returned his Fifa credentials for the World Cup.

Switzerland-based Match Hospitality - part of UK sports event manager Byrom based in Cheadle, near Manchester - said on Tuesday that it was assisting the police investigation.

Fifa, football's world governing body, also said it continued "to fully collaborate with the local authorities and will provide any details requested".

Match is the main provider of hospitality packages for the football World Cup.

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