International Olympic officials have opened a high-level investigation into allegations that authorized representatives in more than 50 countries — including a national Olympic committee — were involved in selling London Olympics tickets on the black market for profit.
The International Olympic Committee convened an emergency session Saturday to discuss a dossier of evidence presented to it by Britain's Sunday Times. The newspaper published an investigation Sunday claiming that officials have been offering tickets for the July 27-Aug. 12 London games, including highly sought-after events such as the men's 100-meter final, at vastly inflated prices.
One of the most damaging allegations was against Spyros Capralos, the Greek Olympic Committee president and top organizer for the 2004 Athens Olympics.
He was quoted as saying he had "pulled strings" with London organizing chairman Sebastian Coe to obtain an extra batch of premium tickets for official agents in Greece, on the pretext that demand in his country had outstripped expectations.
The paper said Capralos acknowledged in talks with its undercover reporters that demand had actually been very low and that many of the tickets were subsequently sold to people outside Greece for profit.
The London organizing committee said Capralos' alleged boasts of discussions with Coe were untrue. Coe had told the Greek Olympic Committee that tickets were allocated in accordance with IOC ticketing policies, it said.
"There was no further contact — either formal or informal — on this subject," it said in a statement.
Capralos was not immediately available for comment. A Greek Olympic Committee official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation, denied that anything untoward had taken place.
At issue are ticket allocations given to each of the 205 national Olympic committees to sell in their home countries. The committees appoint an organization within their countries to sell the tickets, a process meant to ensure equity.
IOC rules forbid national committees from selling tickets abroad, inflating ticket prices or selling tickets to unauthorized resellers.
But the Sunday Times said its undercover reporters, who posed as illegal ticket-sellers acting for clients in the Middle East, caught officials red-handed. It said it has presented the IOC with a dossier of evidence on 27 officials controlling the tickets for 54 countries.
The paper even posted on its website videos of its reporters' negotiations with Capralos and some of the agents. They include official ticket agents in Serbia, Lithuania and China, who offered to sell the undercover reporters premium tickets for up to 6,000 British pounds ($9,407) each.
Official ticket prices for the games range from 20.12 pounds to 2,012 pounds.
One of those accused of falling for the newspaper's ruse was former Olympic swimmer Yoav Bruck, who is authorized to sell tickets in Israel and Cyprus. He denied allegations that he offered the Sunday Times reporters the best seats to the 100 final.
"The report is swamped with untruths, lies and inventions that cries to the heavens," he told Israel's Channel 2 TV. "I am saying that we are clean ... we are not selling anything we are not allowed to."
The report also alleged that Greg Harney, an executive at travel company Cartan Tours and a former top official at the U.S. Olympic Committee, told the undercover reporters how to conceal an illegal ticket sale.
The IOC said in a statement on its website that it "takes these allegations very seriously and has immediately taken the first steps to investigate."
The report was the latest in a string of similar allegations. In May, a top Ukrainian Olympic official resigned following allegations that he offered to sell thousands of dollars' worth of tickets for the London Games on the black market.
Volodymyr Gerashchenko, secretary general of Ukraine's national Olympic committee, was accused in a BBC television report of telling an undercover reporter posing as an unauthorized dealer that he was willing to sell up to 100 tickets for cash.
Ticketing problems have plagued London's organizers for months, with many people in Britain complaining about the official website's intractable computer problems and its inability to cope with huge demand.
Many Britons have been frustrated that they couldn't attend an event that is costing the nation 9.3 billion pounds ($14.6 billion) to host, and ticketing problems have prompted some London officials to demand more transparency on how the tickets were allocated.
Organizers had promised a full accounting once the games are done, but members of the London Assembly, a public watchdog group, have been demanding an accounting of how many tickets have been sold so far and at what price. Critics of the London organizers believe a disproportionate number of tickets have been sold in higher price brackets.
The issue is now in the hands of the IOC ethics commission, which investigates and makes recommendations to the ruling executive board. The IOC has asked the British newspaper to supply all the evidence from its undercover probe.
The IOC is not expected to complete its full investigation until after the London Olympics, but the committee could provisionally take action against certain individuals before the games. Officials could be suspended and barred from attending the Olympics, sanctions which the IOC has taken in previous ethics cases.
In addition, the IOC is considering suspending the ticket sales process for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, until the current investigation is completed, a senior IOC official told The Associated Press. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.