Portuguese prosecutors this week charged Rui Pinto with 147 alleged offences, including claims he hacked the emails of a major football club and sports investment firm.
Prosecutors in Portugal have brought 147 charges against the alleged “hacker” behind the Football Leaks website which has exposed murky dealings within European football.
Rui Pinto, a 30 year-old Portuguese citizen, has been charged with accessing illegal data and attempted extortion following his arrest in Budapest, Hungary, earlier this year.
Byline Times understands that 75 of the charges relate to alleged illegal access and a further 70 relate to the alleged violation of correspondence. The other charges relate to alleged computer sabotage and extortion.
Information obtained by the Football Leaks website has been used by football authorities to take punitive action against a string of European teams,
One senior source familiar with Pinto’s case said: “The sheer volume of charges is eye-watering. If found guilty, Rui Pinto faces a lengthy jail term.”
Pinto denies any wrongdoing, and says he acted in the public interest when disclosing millions of documents about football activities, some of which highlighted alleged corruption or malpractice across the highest echelons of the world’s most popular sport.
Information obtained by the Football Leaks website has been used by football authorities to take punitive action against a string of European teams suspected of breaking the sport’s financial or transfer rules.
Manchester City FC, England’s wealthiest club, faces potential action from UEFA, European football’s governing body, for an alleged breach of the sport’s “financial fair play” rules. Meanwhile, Chelsea FC is in the middle of a transfer ban imposed by UEFA after the London club fell foul of strict rules governing the recruitment of young players. Both issues were brought to public attention by Football Leaks.
No individuals at Manchester City or Chelsea have faced criminal charges. However, several high-profile footballers and managers – including Portugal superstars Cristiano Ronaldo and Jose Mourinho – have been found guilty of tax evasion following investigations inspired by Football Leaks. Both men used offshore companies to hide undeclared income derived from image rights.
But now Pinto is accused of effectively hacking the computer and email systems of one of Portugal’s biggest football clubs, Sporting Lisbon, as well as a controversial Malta-based sports investment firm called Doyen Sports, in order to obtain information.
“The accused used various computer programmes and digital tools to enter, in an unauthorised and anonymous manner, the computer systems or email boxes and remove content from it,” prosecutors said in a statement published on 19 September.
He is also accused of attempting to extort money from an organisation using information he had obtained – a charge which he denies.
Pinto has been held in custody in Portugal following his extradition from Hungary on a European Arrest Warrant in March, and his case has divided public opinion. His critics lambast him as an alleged criminal hacker, while his supporters – which include former members of the European Parliament’s anti-corruption committee – claim he has helped to expose the dark underbelly of football-related finance.
Prior to his arrest, authorities in France and Belgium used Football Leaks’ data to launch major investigations into alleged football corruption. Pinto’s lawyers believe he should be treated as a whistle-blower under European Union law, and given immunity from prosecution.
Ana Gomes, a former member of the European Parliament, also believes Pinto should be treated as a whistle-blower. ‘What worries me is that the [Portuguese prosecutor’s] statement does not have a single line about the terrible and very serious crimes that were exposed by him on the Football Leaks website and which concern the criminality in the football world,’ she said.
Inevitably, Pinto’s case has drawn comparisons with that of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The WikiLeaks boss is facing extradition to the United States from the UK, to answer charges relating to the leak of sensitive military and security data by former soldier Chelsea Manning. Assange has also been questioned by Swedish officials in relation to past allegations of sexual assault. He denies all charges and wrongdoing.