Hickey v Olympic Council of Ireland: when not to investigate immediately


The recent legal clash between the Olympic Council of Ireland and the family of Peter Hickey highlights the many tensions between national governing bodies and investigating agencies when criminal allegations have been made.

Mr Hickey is President of the OCI, but was arrested in August in connection with alleged illegal sale of Olympic tickets.  He has stepped aside while the allegations are investigated. 

Brazilian police reported seeing emails between Mr Hickey and the head of THG Sports (a hospitality company, not an official ticket reseller) discussing illegal ticket sales, and seizing over 1,000 tickets from THG Sports.  The police also referred to an investigation into bank documents and suspicions of money laundering. Two other members of the OCI were implicated in the affair. 

Within days of the news breaking,  the OCI announced its own investigation into the mishandling of ticketing arrangements, to be carried out by Grant Thornton and led by Judge Carroll Moran SC.  Normally, swift and decisive steps would be commended, to enable the OCI to understand what has happened, take action and make changes for the future.

But the investigation in Brazil continues.  Mr Hickey remains in Brazil and his passport has been seized, although he has been released from prison on health grounds.  Mr Hickey has confirmed that he fully supports the OCI investigation, but at least eight others with potentially relevant information are unwilling to participate in that investigation while the Brazilian proceedings continue.

Mr Hickey's family claim that they sought assurances regarding what they refer to as "his constitutional entitlement, the principle of fair procedures and the right to a fair trial", which have not been met.  The family threatened the OCI with an injunction to stop the investigation, citing the lack of independent review and input from key contributors.  

The Irish Times reported on Friday that the OCI has suspended its investigation. 

These events highlight the very real difficulties for a governing body trying to find out what has happened when a police investigation is already on foot - including access to evidential material and key witnesses, competing legal systems and procedures, and the risk of inconsistent outcomes.  Police investigations can be long, drawn out and opaque affairs - but not always. 

Given the nature and seriousness of the allegations, and the absence of key figures in Ireland, in this case waiting for Brazil must be the correct approach.  It is regrettable that Mr Hickey's family had to threaten a court order to achieve this outcome.  And it means that the OCI must suffer delay, and will no doubt be influenced by the Brazilian authorities' outcome.  

But this highlights that, in deciding what do when a crisis hits, and when, all the circumstances of the case must be considered.  Immediate action is not always the right action.  

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The family of Pat Hickey has strongly defended the legal action taken against the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) to prevent them from proceeding with a report into the mishandling of the Rio Olympic ticketing arrangements in which he is directly implicated.
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