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Portuguese court convicts hacker behind biggest leak in football history

Rui Pinto appeared in court in Hungary in March 2019
Rui Pinto appeared in court in Hungary in March 2019 - Copyright AFP Pablo VERA
Rui Pinto appeared in court in Hungary in March 2019 - Copyright AFP Pablo VERA
Thomas CABRAL

A court in Portugal on Monday convicted the hacker Rui Pinto over his “Football Leaks” revelations that exposed dodgy dealings in international football, sentencing him to a suspended four-year prison term.

It was the biggest information leak in sports history and sparked criminal investigations in Belgium, Britain, France, Spain and Switzerland.

Pinto, 34, argued he was a whistleblower acting in the public interest, but prosecutors charged him with 89 hacking offences and attempted extortion, a crime punishable in Portugal by up to 10 years in prison. 

The Lisbon court convicted him on five counts of “illegitimate access” to IT systems and three counts of “correspondence violations”, along with the attempted extortion against the investment fund Doyen Sports.

“The freedom to inform does not justify violations of privacy,” presiding judge Margarida Alves told the court where Pinto, who had been released pending the trial, appeared wearing a surgical mask and his trademark outfit of jeans and dark blue shirt.

“The court has no doubt… It has clearly been established that he was hoping to get money,” Alves said.

Prosecutors alleged that Pinto sought between 500,000 to one million euros ($537,000-$1.07 million) from the head of Doyen Sports, Nelio Lucas, in order to stop publishing compromising documents.

Between 2015 and 2018, Pinto shared 18.6 million documents on the internet and with a consortium of European newspapers, which published details of the revelations that shook the football world.

They included the salaries of Lionel Messi and Neymar, an accusation of rape against Cristiano Ronaldo, alleged financial sleight of hand at Manchester City and ethnic profiling at Paris Saint Germain.

– Defendant and witness –

When his trial began in September 2020, Pinto told the court he had been shocked by what he had discovered and was proud of bringing it to public knowledge.

But he has admitted he used illegal means to obtain documents.

His alleged victims include top Portuguese football club Sporting Lisbon, the Portuguese Football Federation, lawyers, magistrates and Doyen Sports, a Malta-based investment fund run by Kazakh-Turkish oligarchs.

Pinto was arrested in Hungary in 2019 and extradited to Portugal, where he spent a year behind bars before agreeing to cooperate with the Portuguese authorities on other cases, giving them access to encrypted documents he had obtained — making him both a defendant and a protected witness in Portugal.

The French authorities have also sought his cooperation over the “Luanda Leaks”, a release of 715,000 documents providing compromising information on Angolan billionaire Isabel dos Santos, daughter of former president Jose Eduardo dos Santos.

Dos Santos, once the richest woman in Africa, has faced several court cases on charges she siphoned billions of dollars from Angolan state companies during her father’s four decades in office.

AFP
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