The Justice Minister has asked President George Abela to investigate Mr Justice Lino Farrugia Sacco, head of the Malta Olympic Committee, over the Olympics ticket scandal which emerged in The Sunday Times of London.
“The minister wrote to the President, as chairman of the Commission for the Administration of Justice, and asked the commission to investigate the matter,” Chris Said’s spokesman told The Times when contacted.
The British newspaper has accused certain national Olympic committees of selling tickets to third parties for resale on the black market, which is prohibited by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The MOC was not one of these.
However, the newspaper suggested Malta may have been willing to have its tickets sold by agents outside its borders. The IOC does not allow countries to sell their tickets abroad.
It also filmed MOC general secretary Joe Cassar explaining to two undercover reporters posing as envoys of a Middle Eastern ticket tout – in Mr Justice Farrugia Sacco’s presence – how high mark-ups for the tickets could be “camouflaged” through “subtle” marketing techniques.
The Times today publishes a transcript of the footage filmed secretly by The Sunday Times of London which is only available behind a paywall on the iPad version of the newspaper.
Mr Justice Farrugia Sacco has strongly denied any wrongdoing.
When asked yesterday, he said the episode should not reflect badly on his role as a judge and lashed out at “attacks” about his dual role. He said no other country in the world prevented judges from serving on sport-related committees.
“If perceptions are wrong, it is not my fault,” he said, adding that he had spoken to the IOC following the launch of its global investigation. He was assured Malta had done “nothing wrong”.
“Otherwise the IOC would have thrown me out. It’s the other countries that are the problem,” he added.
Asked whether it made sense to attend such business meetings, he said: “I’m not an international judge and I don’t ever deal with businessmen in Malta. Never!”
According to the IOC, its investigation was launched “after claims that several national committees and ticket retailers were reportedly willing to break the rules by offering to buy or sell tickets outside their territory, sell tickets at inflated prices, or sell tickets to unauthorised resellers...”
But Mr Justice Farrugia Sacco says Malta is allowed to sell its rights to an authorised ticket retailer who then sells the island’s allocated tickets to people in EU countries, as long as some tickets are sold locally.
He says the EU’s free trade laws allow tickets to be sold across the union and the IOC has “accepted” this rule, “whether formally or informally”.
In fact, Malta’s tickets for the London 2012 Games have been given to the highest bidder, Marcus Evans group (THG), which is also the authorised seller for Greece and Ireland.
Mr Justice Farrugia Sacco also defended Mr Cassar, saying the rules allow agents to bundle accommodation together with ticket prices.
Asked if the Maltese were given the opportunity to buy the tickets, Mr Justice Farrugia Sacco said the tickets were advertised on the MOC’s website.
“Nobody ever complained to us that they were turned down,” he said.
The MOC issued a statement last night again denying any wrongdoing and saying its officials never asked for payments, mark-ups or percentages from its tickets and never planned to buy tickets to resell them. It accused The Sunday Times reporters of having deceitful intentions and trying to catch people in a “net”.
It said the Marcus Evans agreement was approved by the IOC and the income was used to train Maltese athletes for the London Olympics.
Transcript of the video involving Maltese officials – The Sunday Times of London
Introductory text: Undercover reporters met Joe Cassar and Judge Lino Farrugia Sacco, general secretary and president of the Maltese Olympic Committee in April. They explained how the reporters could profit from becoming Malta’s official ticket agent for the Sochi Winter Olympics.
(Malta Olympic Committee general secretary Joe Cassar is being secretly filmed at the restaurant table by two undercover reporters pretending to be agents for a sheik from the Middle East. They question him about how they can obtain tickets for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics)
Male reporter: Say if we were going to pay you for the Sochi tickets, if we pay you £60,000, we’re not paying you for the tickets, we’re paying you for the right...
Joe Cassar: No, that’s like a royalty, like a... whatever...
Male reporter: Ah I see, we’re paying you for the right to buy the tickets, I see...
Cassar: That is for the right of working on our behalf.
Female reporter: OK so for...
Male reporter: And then within that we could make our own mark-up on the tickets.
Cassar: I think it is... I think there is a restriction of how much you can. I mean, if a ticket costs $500 you cannot sell it to $5,000. I think there is a 20 per cent or something.
Female reporter: Right, OK, but if...
Male reporter: But do they check up on that?
Cassar: If you advertise it then it is checkable. But if you then insert it into a package and [say] ‘I will give you a folder and a this and this and this’. Then you are, you know camouflaging in a way, I think.
Female reporter: OK.
(Blackout. MOC president Judge Lino Farrugia Sacco appears at the table by Mr Cassar’s side.)
Cassar: But let us suppose your agent takes the agency. So he cannot... if he’s from outside the EU first thing you probably have to do is register an office in Europe.
Lino Farrugia Sacco: In the EU...
Cassar: Two, he’s still supposed to be selling those tickets in Malta but because of EU rules, the ‘free trade’ whatever you call it, without making publicity he could sell them in England, France, Germany or whatever.
Reporters: Oh OK.
Cassar: But you cannot say, listen....
Farrugia Sacco: Because Malta is part of the EU.
Cassar: ...I am the agent from Malta and you can buy... So it has to be sort of subtle marketing and so on.
Farrugia Sacco: Quite frankly we are interested just in our needs because we realise that if a person is willing to pay you that much money that person wants to make a profit. Obviously, he’s doing it in order to make a mark-up and get his money back, plus a profit, so obviously you’ve got to be reasonable and not demand too much. And we know that. And as long as we get our allocation, as long as some sales are made for the Maltese we... (indecipherable).
Text: The officials even offered to obtain tickets to the 2012 London Games for the reporters to sell to their clients.
Cassar: If you want some tickets, we don’t... we have a lot of contacts and so on and if there is anything specific that you wish we can help you get them. Maybe... Or...
Farrugia Sacco: We can try.
Cassar: We know about half a dozen agents who are friends of ours. So if one doesn’t have I can say, listen can you give me these for a friend of mine or whatever?