Ex-MEPs Head to Lisbon to Demand Release of Football Leaks Whistle-blower
Two former members of the EU’s anti-corruption committee warn Portugal over the treatment of Rui Pinto ahead of crunch meeting tomorrow.
Two senior members of the European Parliament will visit Portugal’s Justice Minister tomorrow to demand the release of the alleged “hacker” behind the exposure of widespread football corruption and tax evasion.
Influential former MEPs Ana Gomes and Eva Joly, vice-chairs of Brussels’ Special Committee on Financial Crimes, Tax Evasion and Tax Avoidance, are due in Lisbon on 16 July to discuss the latest developments in the case of the arrested Football Leaks creator Rui Pinto.
Ahead of the meeting, the two former MEPs have warned Portugal it would be a “double-standard” if it did not treat Pinto as a whistle-blower in the same way that its European peers have during their fight against football corruption.
The politicians will meet with the woman in charge of Portugal’s justice system, Francesca Van Dunem, to demand the release on bail of Pinto while he awaits trial for allegedly hacking the computer systems of a major football club and sports investment firm to obtain information which, he and others claim, exposed a network of corruption across the sport.
Pinto was arrested on a European Arrest Warrant in Budapest, Hungary, earlier this year and extradited to Portugal, where he faces potential hacking and extortion charges. He denies wrongdoing.
Unlike Portugal, anti-corruption authorities across Europe have treated Pinto as a whistle-blower and are demanding he is protected from prosecution in exchange for his assistance in exposing crimes committed across Europe’s cash-rich football sector.
In a letter sent to Van Dunem last month – and copied to Portugal’s Prime Minister, Antonio Costa – Gomes and Joly demand an update on the progress Portugal has made in investigating alleged corruption exposed by Pinto. Major anti-corruption bodies, such as the pan-European Eurojust agency, are already assessing some of Football Leaks’ information.
The letter by Gomes and Joly adds: “We sincerely hope that Rui Pinto could soon be released from prison to allow him to prepare for his trial and cooperate freely with the Eurojust prosecutors.”
“Not extending sufficient protection to the sources of information used as evidence to fight corruption is not just a double standard. It is a regression in the European Union battle against corruption”Ana Gomes and Eva Joly
The meeting tomorrow is likely to pit the influential European parliamentary committee against Portugal’s justice department, which has appeared more concerned with prosecuting Pinto over how he allegedly obtained information from Sporting Lisbon, one of the country’s biggest clubs, and a Malta-based sports investment firm called Doyen Sports.
Gomes and Joly write: “We strongly believe that the Football Leaks are revelations of high public interest.
“We are heartened to see prosecutors from 10 countries cooperating to explore evidence from the Football Leaks as part of a new initiative of Eurojust. Therefore, we look forward to discussing and hearing your views on the best ways to achieve our common goals of accountability and transparency.
“Not extending sufficient protection to the sources of information used as evidence to fight corruption is not just a double standard. It is a regression in the European Union battle against corruption.”
EU committee members believe Football Leaks’ revelations that major players, managers, agents and others were using networks of offshore companies to hide their true income has led to the levying of more than £30 million in fines as European states attempt to clawback taxes owed on undeclared income.
Three giants of the sport – Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, Juventus’ Cristiano Ronaldo and former Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho – are among those who have been prosecuted for tax fraud in Spain in recent years. All three men were found guilty by Spanish courts and received suspended prison sentences alongside huge fines.
Ana Gomes and Eva Joly’s letter to Portugal’s Justice Minister can be read here.