A computer hacker whose efforts revealed troubling practices which shape the multi-billion-dollar global soccer industry has been charged with 147 crimes by Portugal’s national prosecutor.
For four years between 2015 and his arrest in Hungary in January this year, 30-year-old Rui Pinto sowed anxiety in the soccer world by publishing hundreds of internal documents on Football Leaks, an internet platform which he set up.
Pinto, a Portuguese national later collaborated with a European media consortium led by the German newsmagazine, Der Spiegel to disseminate even more damaging documents.
The information Football Leaks made public, including player contracts, internal team financial documents and confidential emails exposed the murky world of soccer finance, led to criminal tax prosecutions of several top players and even helped prompt officials in the United States to reopen a sexual assault investigation involving the Portuguese star, Cristiano Ronaldo.
The legal team and supporters of Pinto who has expressed a willingness to cooperate with investigations in a number of countries had sought to portray him as a whistle-blower.
Yet even as his actions led to criminal referrals and investigations by soccer officials into some of the game’s most-powerful clubs and agents, the Portuguese authorities continued to pursue him as a criminal.
In March this year, Portuguese prosecutors won a ruling in Hungary where he had been living for several years leading to his eventual extradition.
Most of the crimes Pinto is accused of in a 195-page indictment announced last week are related to the unauthorized accessing of confidential data but the most significant charge concerns what the authorities have labeled an attempt to extort a powerful sports agency.
In that incident, the Portuguese prosecutors said Pinto sought as much as 1 million euros in return for deleting information belonging to the company, Doyen Sports.
The indictment also detailed the hack of Doyen and a subsequent incident in which Pinto is accused of assuming the identity of Artem Lobuzov as part of an alleged extortion attempt.
Using the pseudonym, he was said to have contacted the firm’s chief executive, Nelio Lucas in October 2015 to offer him the chance to prevent the release of the firm’s documents in return for a ‘generous donation’ of between 500,000 and 1 million euros.
Anibal Pinto, a lawyer hired by Rui Pinto to negotiate with Doyen officials has also been charged in the case. The negotiations lasted about a month before breaking down after a cache of Doyen’s documents started emerging on Football Leaks.
On Friday, Pinto’s legal team released a statement in which they accused the Portuguese prosecutors of waging a campaign to ‘silence and destroy’ their client and block his efforts to cooperate with investigators elsewhere.
Pinto’s actions in releasing information through Football Leaks have been championed by European anti-corruption and transparency groups and his case has been taken up by Bourdon, a French lawyer known for representing other high-profile individuals who leaked sensitive information into the public domain, including the former intelligence contractor, Edward Snowden.
Even with Pinto in detention, the repercussions of his efforts continue to roil the soccer industry.
After Football Leaks disclosed Doyen’s contracts, some clubs like F.C. Twente of Holland were punished for breaching local licensing regulations related to third-party influence over players.
And investigators from UEFA, European soccer’s governing body have recommended banning the English champion Manchester City from future editions of the Champions League after studying details revealed by Football Leaks of an apparent effort by the club to circumvent financial rules.
The documents appeared to show that Manchester City had disguised sponsorship payments to evade those rules and also detailed a system in which the club ran an off-the-books player recruitment fund.
While Pinto has become a hero of sorts for those demanding greater transparency in soccer, his past conduct has raised questions about his motivations.
For instance, in 2014, he reached an out-of-court settlement with the Caledonian Bank after being accused of hacking into its systems and transferring thousands of dollars from one of its client accounts.