Europe

Trial opens for accused Football Leaks mastermind

Rui Pinto, who faces 90 charges, sees himself as whistle-blower on European football clubs’ big-money dealings.

Rui Pinto, the Portuguese man behind the Football Leaks website, said at the start of his trial that he was proud to be a whistle-blower on European football clubs’ big-money dealings.

A 31-year-old former history student and self-taught computer mastermind, Pinto faces 90 charges – from unauthorised access to data and violation of correspondence to attempted extortion – in the case at Lisbon’s Central Criminal Court.

“I don’t consider myself a hacker. I am a whistle-blower,” Pinot said on Friday.

“The revelations are serious and I’m proud, there’s no shame. I haven’t done anything for money,” added Pinto, who acknowledges releasing 70 million documents on football’s backroom workings.

Pinto has also taken responsibility for disclosing hundreds of thousands of files about alleged financial schemes by former Angolan first daughter Isabel dos Santos, but told the court his leaking endeavours were over.

“My work as a whistle-blower is done,” he said.

In the dos Santos affair, Angola has begun criminal investigations but she has repeatedly denied wrongdoing.

Football Leaks’ data seen by Reuters news agency showed how some of the richest and most prominent figures avoided tax by channelling earnings offshore, and gave insight into wealthy Gulf individuals and organisations who became influential in football.

It also examined the huge sums flowing through leading clubs and the uneven way authorities have applied rules.

The documents provided some of the evidence that led to a ban – since overturned – on English Premier League club Manchester City from competing in the European Champions League for alleged breaches of Financial Fair Play rules.

‘Lamentable’ allegations

Pinto’s identity was only revealed after his arrest.

Before, he referred to himself as “John” when speaking to journalists, stating he wanted focus on the data, not the person. He never explained how he obtained information or who helped.

Pinto was arrested in January 2019 on a street in Budapest, a city he first got to know as an Erasmus student and where he moved back in 2015 after breaking off a history degree.

He was extradited to a Portuguese jail in March, then placed in house arrest and is now in witness protection. He faces a maximum of 25 years in jail for the charges against him.

Plaintiffs for football club Sporting, the Portuguese Football Federation, investment fund Doyen Sports and law firm PLMJ were present for Monday’s trial opening.

Doyen lawyer Sofia Branco Ribeiro accused Pinto of illegally accessing their data and attempting to extort 1 million euros ($1.18m) from the company.

“Pinto has used the media to victimise himself, as if he was a hero who can access everything,” she said.

Pinto’s lawyer Francisco Teixeira da Moto called these allegations “lamentable”.

“He is hopeful, confident, determined,” William Bourdon, another lawyer for Pinto who also represented fugitive US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, told reporters.

The trial is expected to last until December and includes testimony from 45 witnesses, including Snowden and the former French financial judge Eva Joly.

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