European Olympics chief arrested in Rio over tickets scandal

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Rio de Janeiro (AFP) - Brazilian police arrested Europe's top Olympic official Patrick Hickey on Wednesday over black market sales of Rio Games tickets forcing the sports baron to 'temporarily' leave his posts.

Police raided a luxury Rio hotel where International Olympic Committee (IOC) officials are staying just after dawn to detain the 71-year-old.

In a move similar to the arrest of seven top FIFA officials at a Zurich hotel last year, Hickey was shown in media video images answering the door naked before putting on a bath robe to answer questions.

He was taken away in an ambulance and was expected to spend the night in hospital before he could be questioned, IOC spokesman Mark Adams and police said.

Police said they suspect he had changed rooms to try to evade arrest.

Hickey's wife at first told them Hickey had left the country, police told reporters.

“We found some of his possessions in his room: shoes, his socks thrown on the ground, his suitcase was there and open," said Rio special investigations chief Ronaldo Oliveira.

"His Olympics accreditation was lying on the floor which led to the belief that he had run and went to hide somewhere," the investigator added. Hickey was detained in a separate room.

Within hours Hickey announced through the Olympic Committee of Ireland (OCI) that he was "temporarily" standing down as a member of the IOC executive as well as president of the European Olympic Committees and the OCI.

The statement blamed "this morning's developments" and Hickey's "ill health" and would last "until this matter is fully resolved."

He has been accused of ticket scalping, ambush marketing and conspiracy after tickets seized from another Irish businessman. Prosecutors have estimated the profits from the black market sales at $3 million dollars.

- Tickets turmoil -

The IOC spokesman said the global body would be "fully cooperating" with the Brazilian investigation.

"Mr Hickey is entitled for the world and everyone to believe he is innocent until proven guilty," Adams added. "Let's not jump the gun on this one."

The arrest will be a blow to the IOC which has made anti-corruption efforts a priority since a bribery scandal around the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. Six IOC members were expelled after.

Brazilian police have launched a widening investigation after seizing more than 1,000 premier tickets for Games events, including the opening ceremony.

Tickets with a face value of about $1,000 dollars were sold for more than $8,000.

Some of the tickets had the Olympic Council of Ireland name on them.

Kevin James Mallon, a director of THG Sports -- which was licensed to resell London 2012 and Sochi 2014 Olympic tickets, was arrested in Rio on August 5 with some of the tickets. Hickey's son Stephen used to work at THG.

Another THG staffer was arrested in Brazil in 2014 over the reselling of World Cup tickets.

Brazilian prosecutors have also issued a warrant for Marcus Evans, a British businessman and owner of English Championship football club Ipswich.

Hickey has been a member of the IOC executive board since 2012. As head of the European body he was instrumental in setting up the European Games which was first held in Baku, Azerbaijan, last year.

He denied any connection to THG in an interview last week with Irish broadcaster RTE, saying: "There is no impropriety whatsoever from anyone within the OCI or myself in the dealing of tickets."

Brazilian police are also looking for an executive with Pro10 Sports Management, an Irish company based in Lucan which was appointed by the OCI as its authorised ticket re-seller in Ireland.

Pro10 said the tickets Mallon had in his possession were held for collection by Irish and other European customers who had purchased them at face value, plus a commission.

In a statement issued Wednesday, Pro10 said it was "appalled that allegations are being made against the company without any attempt to ascertain the facts.

"The Brazilian authorities seem to be dealing with these extremely serious allegations through the media and no contact has been made with Pro10," it said.