Wed 27 January 2021

As Portuguese authorities prepare their case against the alleged Football Leaks “hacker”, France contacts Lisbon to discuss cutting a deal to help identify financial threats to the sport.

Prosecutors in France have spoken to their Portuguese counterparts about granting immunity to alleged football “hacker” Rui Pinto in return for help in investigating potential corruption.

In the week in which the fate of another alleged hacker, WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, hit the headlines following his UK arrest and potential extradition to the United States, it has emerged that the man behind the Football Leaks website which has exposed wrongdoing across the sport is also at the centre of a legal tug-o-war.

Pinto was arrested in Budapest earlier this year, after Portuguese authorities issued a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) following claims that he hacked the computer network of top-flight club Sporting Lisbon and a Malta-based sports investment firm, Doyen Sports, in order to obtain documents.

Like Julian Assange, Rui Pinto divides opinion. Some allege that Pinto is little more than a criminal, and others that he is a whistle-blower.

Byline Times source

The EAW issued by Portugal also alleges that 30 year-old Pinto attempted to extort monies from Doyen. Pinto and his legal team strongly deny any wrongdoing, and argue that he has not gained financially from his activities. Pinto also claims he will not receive a fair trial in Portugal.

Thousands of sensitive documents obtained by the Football Leaks website have been released to carefully-selected media partners who are now investigating allegations of corruption and other activities across the cash-rich football sector – including the German newspaper Der Spiegel.

But investigative authorities in France and Belgium have also obtained some of the data, and were separately treating Pinto as a potential whistle-blower – until his arrest by the Portuguese authorities.

Official bodies have already used information obtained by Football Leaks to clamp down on alleged tax avoidance and breaches of UEFA’s financial “fair play” rules which require clubs to balance their books.

Pinto could “provide valuable help in recovering money stolen through tax evasion”.

Ana Gomes, Portuguese MEP

Now, it has emerged that French prosecutors have discussed with Portugal the idea of granting Pinto some form of immunity from prosecution, so that French authorities can continue to investigate alleged wrongdoing within the football world. It is not yet clear how the Portuguese authorities will respond – some commentators have suggested that, if found guilty of his alleged crimes in Portugal, Pinto faces up to ten years in jail.

At a press conference in Lisbon last week, Portuguese MEP Ana Gomes claimed Pinto could co-operate with Eurojust – the European Union’s judicial co-operation unit.

Gomes, vice-chair of the European parliament’s committee on tax evasion and financial crimes, said that Pinto could “provide valuable help in recovering money stolen through tax evasion”.

One senior source familiar with the case, told Byline Times: ‘Like Julian Assange, Rui Pinto divides opinion. Some allege that Pinto is little more than a criminal and others that he is a whistle-blower who is trying to tackle corruption in a football profession which is increasingly vulnerable to dark practices.’

France’s potential intervention marks just the latest twist in the ongoing saga over Pinto’s future. Byline Times recently reported that Russia has separately requested information on Pinto from Portugal.

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