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Olympics - Ireland's Rio ticket agent was front for banned seller, says report

By Conor Humphries

DUBLIN (Reuters) - The agent at the centre of an alleged scheme to illegally pass Ireland's tickets for the 2016 Rio Olympics to touts was "not genuine" and was used to hide the involvement of banned ticket reseller THG, a Irish government report said on Monday.

The Olympic movement was rocked during the Rio Games when Europe's top official, head of the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) Patrick Hickey, was arrested in a dawn raid on a luxury beachfront hotel by police investigating the alleged scheme.

Police in Brazil accuse Hickey of operating the ring with Dublin-based PRO10 Sports Management to funnel tickets intended for use by the Irish Olympic committee, and not authorised for resale, to international sports hospitality company THG Sports.

Hickey was released on bail in December. All involved deny wrongdoing.

A report commissioned by the Irish government in the wake of the scandal said on Monday it believed that PRO10 was effectively a front for THG, which had been banned by the organisers of the Rio Games.

"It appears that Pro10 was not a genuine Authorised Ticket Reseller (ATR) but its involvement disguised the continuing role of THG and Marcus Evans as the real or de facto ATR," Judge Carroll Moran said in the report.

Evans is a British businessman whose namesake company controls THG.

The report cites Hickey's personal assistant Linda O'Reilly, as saying it "would appear that PRO10 was effectively a front or cover to allow Marcus Evans and THG to remain in the picture."

THG said in a statement it was satisfied that, at all times, it had "acted lawfully in connection with the Rio Olympics, or any Olympics," but declined further comment.

Hickey, 72, said in a statement he had received legal advice not to cooperate with the report in order to avoid prejudicing himself in relation to the criminal investigation in Brazil, but said the report contained "significant inaccuracies."

He added that he was "totally confident" he would be cleared of all charges.

Hickey's replacement as OCI president, Sarah Keane, told journalists the report "did not make easy reading" but that it neither confirmed nor refuted the possibility that criminal activity took place.

THG REJECTED

THG had been Ireland's official reseller of tickets for the Olympics in London in 2012 and at Sochi in 2014.

But the Rio Organising Committee rejected the application of THG to act as reseller for the 2016 Summer Games, saying the fact it was already offering hospitality packages in Brazil breached its rules.

Police last year said they had uncovered emails between Hickey and Evans in which the pair discussed tickets, which police said the ring planned to sell at inflated prices and earn as much as 10 million reais ($3.14 million) in profit.

Reuters could not independently verify the authenticity of the emails.

Monday's report noted that THG paid $1 million to be appointed as Ireland's ticket reseller for the Olympic Games in London in 2012 and at Sochi in 2014 "without an explanation being given at the time as to how it would recoup this sum or earn a return on such a large outlay."

The report was highly critical of the service provided by PRO10, particularly to the friends and family of athletes, saying it was "inadequate and chaotic" and that PRO10's services were "unfit for purpose".

The judge said the refusal of THG, PRO10 and Hickey to participate in the preparation of the report was a "major impediment" to its work.

On Monday, the OCI's Keane said a contract was signed with THG to retain its services until the 2026 Winter Olympics and that it was possible THG would take legal action to enforce it.

The organising committee of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games in Korea had rejected THG as Ireland's authorised ticket seller, she added.

Ireland has been unable to find sponsors for the 2018 Games and will have to fund uniforms from its own resources, she said.

(Reporting by Conor Humphries; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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