Portugal charges Football Leaks hacker – hero to some, villain to others

Rui Pinto, the famous hacker behind the Football Leaks scandal, which exposed some of the dirtiest secrets in European soccer, has finally been charged in Portugal.

Held by some to be football’s Edward Snowden or a modern-day Robin Hood, Pinto exposed the tax evasion and financial tricks used by Europe’s top clubs, including Manchester City, current title holders of the English Premier League and the Champions League.

Pinto shared around 70 million documents and 3.4 terabytes of data to Der Spiegel between 2015-2018, inspiring several eye-opening articles and leading to multiple investigations. However, despite the usefulness of his findings, Pinto actually stole the information, Portuguese officials claim.

The hacker was arrested in Hungary in 2019 and extradited back to his home country, Portugal.

Pinto has now been charged with 377 different offenses. The indictment states that 202 of the offenses are for qualified unlawful access, 134 – for violation of correspondence, 23 – for aggravated violation of correspondence, and 18 – for computer damage.

To be sentenced soon

For instance, the prosecution alleges that Pinto illegally accessed the email of a lawyer for Cristiano Ronaldo, soccer’s superstar, and gave Der Spiegel information about a rape allegation against the athlete made by a model. Ronaldo is one of more than 100 people called to testify in the case.

By the way, Pinto has already been tried in another trial in the Football Leaks case where he was accused of 90 computer crimes and extortion. The hacker was already found guilty in that case and stands to be sentenced on July 13th.

Pinto, now 34, himself has always cooperated with the prosecutors and has been free since August 2020. For security reasons, he remains under police protection at an undisclosed location.

Pinto has explained in the past that he wanted “to expose the rot in football.” In many circles, he really is hailed as a hero – moreover, if there was a whistleblower’s charter in Portugal, Pinto would have had protection because there was clearly a correlation between his revelations and the investigations that followed.

In other words, it’s safe to say that were it not for Pinto, Manchester City would not have been charged by the English Football Association and the Premier League with financial wrongdoing – which it did this year.

However, the prosecution has never agreed with Pinto’s description as a whistleblower, adding fuel to the burning debate whether those who use illegal means to expose illegality should be held heroes or criminals.

Robin Hood or a criminal?

There’s more, though. In his trial, Pinto was accused of using the stolen information to blackmail Nelio Lucas, the public face of Doyen Sports, an investment fund involved in major soccer transfers. Pinto wanted between €500,000 ($548,000) and €1 million ($1.09 million) for his silence. In court, the suspect confessed to criminality and said he regretted his actions towards Doyen.

What’s more, the 2022 documentary A Game of Secrets tells of transfers of hundreds of thousands of euros to an offshore account created by Pinto who later settled to pay back the money. In one case, €230,000 ($252,000) was paid from a German pension fund.

“There are several layers of irony to that, in the sense that Football Leaks started with this manifesto saying: ‘The game we love so much is rotten, let’s take back the peoples’ game from all these greedy men,’” Niels Borchert Holm, the director of the documentary, told The Guardian.

“It’s the Robin Hood principle. To me a significant detail is that the €230,000 came from a pension fund. That is the least Robin Hood-like thing you can imagine.”