SUNDAY TIMES - Cup Ticket Scam
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Sunday Times STLive By Prega Govender, 2010-06-27

Cup Ticket Scam

Local companies, including petrochemicals giant Sasol, have lost more than R6.5-million in World Cup ticketing scams.

Dozens of South African and foreign fans have also been robbed of hundreds of thousands of rands after buying tickets that were later cancelled because they were not bought through Fifa-accredited agents.

This may also partly explain why blocks of empty seats and, in some cases, deserted suites have been spotted at some World Cup matches.

Clifford Green, a lawyer acting for Fifa and its hospitality affiliate Match, confirmed that this week he had handed police a lengthy dossier of affidavits from seven companies, outlining their huge losses.

Sasol Oil - one of Sasol's business units - was invoiced by a ticketing company for R3.3-million.

It had bought 110 tickets, for among others, the group games, the two semi-finals and the final .

The company also paid for VIP hospitality services at matches, including meals and drinks.

Included in Sasol Oil's batch of tickets were 40 tickets for two group games, on June 16 and 21.

Jacqui O' Sullivan, Sasol's group communications manager, confirmed that in 2008 a company known as "the Marcus Evans Group" offered Sasol Oil hospitality and ticket packages for the Confederations Cup and the World Cup.

She said in May 2008 Sasol Oil bought World Cup tickets and paid a 50% deposit for the hospitality package, which came to about R2-million.

But the company discovered during last year's Confed Cup that the Marcus Evans Group was not Fifa accredited .

"Sasol Oil informed them that unless the company secured the appropriate accreditation, the transactions for World Cup tickets and hospitality would not be concluded," said O'Sullivan. Sasol has asked lawyers to recover the money from the company.

Some of the other companies that have made statements about their ticketing woes include:

  • A firm from Bruma in Johannesburg, which lost R2.8-million after buying 80 tickets, including hospitality, for both semi-finals and the final;
  • A Bloemfontein trading and investment company, which lost R107800;
  • A Cape Town-based company, which lost R92000; and
  • A firm from Melrose Arch in Johannesburg, which lost R662000.

Fifa this week named Norwegian company Euroteam, which operates several websites, as one of the companies selling tickets illegally.

Danish national Michael Bakkestrom, and a German, Siv Anne Balsley, appeared in the Randburg Magistrate's Court last week for allegedly selling illegal World Cup tickets on behalf of Euroteam.

They were arrested at the five-star Michelangelo hotel in Sandton, Johannesburg, after police found 70 tickets in their possession earlier this month. Fifa officials are also based at the hotel.

The pair were released on bail of R15000 each after their case was postponed until Tuesday.

Despite the crackdown on its illegal activities, Euroteam brazenly advertised in the Sunday Times's sister newspaper, The Times, on Friday.

The advert reads: "World Cup 2010 Tickets. All matches including the final."

A tiny strapline at the bottom of the advert says the company is not affiliated with Fifa and that all orders are subject to Norwegian law.

Some of those who bought tickets through Euroteam's websites - which could not be used because they either had the wrong names printed on them or they were electronically cancelled after Fifa discovered they were illegal - include:

  • A family of four from Virginia in the US who paid R16324 for four category four tickets for the game between France and Mexico in Polokwane on June 17. (It is illegal to sell a category four ticket to anyone outside South Africa);
  • A Mexican woman who paid R26272 for three category one tickets for the same game in Polokwane; and
  • Pretoria transport planner Hugo Groenewald, who paid R38750 for six tickets for the opening game between South Africa and Mexico on June 11.

Groenewald, whose tickets were supposed to be mailed to him, only managed to fetch the tickets from an "agent" in Sandton as the game was about to start. He did not attend the match after discovering that four tickets contained the wrong name and the other two contained no names.

Groenewald said the ticket fiasco had been a huge embarrassment for him because he had promised tickets to colleagues and business associates.

He had been so set on getting to the opening match that he did not apply through Fifa.com in case he was unsuccessful.

"I admit I was naive and am to be blamed but Fifa must take some blame . These people are openly advertising World Cup tickets. How can Fifa not react and warn the world about it?"

Police spokesman Colonel Vish Naidoo confirmed that police were investigating a case involving the sale of tickets on a website which was not an official Fifa website.

Fifa put out a statement this week to the effect that fans had submitted many complaints about Euroteam to Fifa's ticketing office .

"Fifa is also working closely with New Scotland Yard in the UK in shutting down several fraudulent and unauthorised websites," Fifa said.

Fifa lawyer Green said one of the overseas companies involved in illegal ticket sales had established a bogus company in the tiny European principality of Liechtenstein .

"They invoice clients from an address in Liechtenstein. We found out that there's only a postbox there," he said.

Green said empty seats at some games could be attributed to companies and fans not being allowed access because they had dud tickets.

Attempts to reach "Marcus Evans Group" yesterday were unsuccessful.

  • Ticket-holders wanting to sell their tickets must log on to Fifa's website and access the resale platform. The website warns that there is no guarantee that a ticket submitted for resale would be sold. If you have already collected a hard copy of your ticket, Fifa will not accept it for resale.
  • govenderp@sundaytimes.co.za