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'No wrongdoing' in Malta in Olympics tickets sting

Malta judge and official in UK newspaper investigation

The head of Malta's Olympic Committee, Mr Justice Lino Farrugia Sacco, yesterday featured in an investigative report by The Sunday Times of London about abuse in the sale of Olympic Games tickets.

However in comments to The Times (Malta) he denied any claims of wrongdoing, saying: "We would never go against the rules of the International Olympic Committee ( IOC). It's not worth it."

Following a two-month undercover investigation, the British newspaper alleged widespread corruption among officials and agents in 54 countries, prompting an IOC probe.

National Olympic committees were willing to sell chunks of their official ticket allocations to international touts knowing they would be sold against the IOC's rules, according to the newspaper. Undercover reporters who posed as envoys of a Middle Eastern ticket tout found 27 officials and agents willing to do business, the weekly said.

Among those secretly filmed were Mr Justice Farrugia Sacco and MOC general secretary Joseph Cassar.

In the footage, posted on the paper's website, the two appear to be explaining how the rights on Malta's allocated tickets for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi (Russia) could be bought. Mr Cassar also explained how the tickets could be  marketed and sold within "subtle" bundle package deals at a mark-up.

National committees are not allowed to sell tickets outside their borders or to anyone intending to resell. Nor can they add more than 20 per cent to the original price.

The report by The Sunday Times had this to say about the Maltese officials: "Greece was not alone in being happy to allow its tickets to be sold abroad... The (Maltese) officials (Mr Justice Farrugia Sacco and Mr Cassar) were tempted by a £60,000 offer for the Winter Games tickets.

"They told the reporters they would need to set up a European office and it would be fine to sell across the continent as long as they left 'a few tickets' for the Maltese people."

Mr Justice Farrugia Sacco is quoted as saying: "Frankly, we are just interested in our needs because we realise that if the person is willing to pay you that much money, that person wants to make a profit."

When contacted yesterday about the undercover investigation by the British journalists, Mr Justice Farrugia Sacco said: "The MOC has no problems about it, in the sense that we have not done anything that is in any way wrong.

"Regarding the other national committees, I'd rather not comment because I have no information and, in my line of work, I'm accustomed not to pass any comments before I have any evidence. If they are guilty, they should be punished, if they are not they should not even be accused."

He recalled the conversation with the undercover reporters last April. "They pretended to be working for some sheikh and were interested in the Sochi 2014 (Winter Olympics) tickets and that's how the conversation started."

He said he left midway through the meeting because he thought they were people simply attempting "a venture".

"Quite frankly, I didn't give them much importance."

Asked whether he would have sold the tickets if the request was genuine, Mr Justice Farrugia Sacco said: "We would never go against the rules of the IOC, it's not worth it."

Asked whether he felt the report by The Sunday Times incriminated him, he said: "Well, I can say you hurt somebody even if you wouldn't have. Anybody can say anything but the important thing is whether you did it or not... Or whether you even attempted.

"But they do not have any proof that any of us or the MOC executive in any way ever tried to do that."

The tickets, he said, had not even been issued yet. "Even with all the bad intentions in the world, one wouldn't have managed."

Mr Justice Farrugia Sacco described the IOC's rules as "a very awkward system" where a national committee whose athletes did not qualify could end up suddenly loaded with expensive tickets that could not be sold.

Although the IOC does not allow countries to sell their tickets outside their borders, EU free trade laws said you could, provided it was within the EU, Mr Justice Farrugia Sacco pointed out.

He also said Malta's tickets for the London 2012 games were sold to the authorised retailer Marcus Evans Group who gave the best offer some years back. The offer was then accepted by the MOC and the agreement found the approval of the IOC. This was the first time Malta made money from its Olympic games tickets, money that was invested in local competitions and training.

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