Lisbon’s Judiciary Police prison is situated just down the road from Eduardo VII Park, one of the Portuguese capital’s most popular tourist attractions that is famed for its spectacular views of the city and the River Tagus. With only around 25 tiny cells and based in the depths of the giant white building which is the headquarters of the country’s antiterrorist and serious crime authorities, the high-security facility is usually reserved for only the most dangerous criminals. For almost the past year, however, it has also been home to Rui Pinto.
The 31-year-old who created the Football Leaks website which provided some of the evidence that led to Manchester City’s Champions League ban and numerous other investigations into tax evasion and corruption in football and beyond is still awaiting trial for alleged extortion, violation of secrecy and illegally accessing information despite being extradited to his homeland from Hungary in March 2019. Last week, his lawyers filed a complaint to the European Commission over inconsistencies in the original arrest warrant that only accused Pinto of six offences before that was increased to 147 while he was in custody.
That was reduced to just 90 at the start of February, meaning he still faces the prospect of up to 30 years in prison if found guilty. Yet rather than contemplating spending most of his life behind bars, the former student who dropped out of his history degree is determined not to give up hope.
“We met him for the first time in about seven or eight months in December,” says Rafael Buschmann, a reporter for the German magazine Der Spiegel who co-authored the book Football Leaks having worked closely with Pinto for more than four years. “He had just finished six months in isolation and I expected to find someone who was in a very bad mental situation but he wasn’t at all. Rui was very focused and said it was important for him not to lose his mind because all of the passwords for the hard drives are in his head. He knows all of the authorities in Portugal are afraid because he is still in a position to release whatever other evidence he has.”
Pinto has already supplied around 70 million documents and 3.4 terabytes of information including tax returns and personal emails from some of the sport’s most influential figures to Der Spiegel and other members of the media network known as the European Investigative Collaborators (EIC group) and was recently unveiled as the source of the Luanda Leaks, which exposed the inner workings of business empire of Africa’s richest woman, Isabel dos Santos.
It was from this original cache during an intense seven-month investigation that Der Spiegel reporter Christoph Winterbach first discovered the emails that appeared to indicate City were flouting Uefa’s Financial Fair Play rules, not to mention the infamous “1 down, 6 to go,” message allegedly sent by the City lawyer Simon Cliff after he informed that one of Uefa’s seven investigators, Jean-Dehaene, had died.
“I talked with Rui’s family a few days ago after City were banned and they told me that the first thing he said was, ‘Why only two years?’,” says Buschmann. “The second question he had was, ‘Why didn’t Uefa call me?’ It seems strange that they wouldn’t make some contact with the person who provided their strongest evidence.”
“There’s a clear correlation between the publication of our article and the investigation,” adds Winterbach. “Three weeks later, they wrote the first letter to City asking about our revelations and they started the formal investigation when we published another piece online which showed excerpts from the emails. I don’t think that would have happened without Rui’s evidence.”
Ever since the first of four articles about City appeared in Der Spiegel in November 2018, City have denied wrongdoing and denounced their coverage as based on “hacked or stolen” materials that have been taken out of context despite Pinto’s insistence that he never hacked computers to gain access to the emails.
City are set to appeal to the court of arbitration of sport but even if Cas rule the emails were obtained illegally, there have been precedents where crucial evidence has been permitted despite it being illicitly acquired, including one case involving the infringement of the code of ethics by a Fifa official who was implicated by a secret recording.
A few weeks after the articles on City were published and two months before his extradition, Pinto was heard as a witness by the Parquet National Financier (PNF) – which is responsible for law enforcement against serious financial crime in France – as part of its investigation into tax evasion and money laundering. He handed over 26 terabytes of new data – around nine times bigger than the original cache provided to the EIC group – which is still under evaluation, while Pinto has also been contacted by German and Belgian tax authorities keen to access the encrypted information.
It remains to be seen what emerges from those investigations, although the revelations from Pinto’s first round of data have continued to send shockwaves through the world of football. On 6 February – two days before Porto’s top of the table showdown with Benfica – Portuguese magazine Sabado claimed that authorities were investigating the Porto president, Jorge Nuno de Lima Pinto da Costa, and the club for alleged tax fraud and money laundering relating to the transfers of players including Radamel Falcao, James Rodríguez and Iker Casillas.
The presidents of Benfica and Braga and the agent Jorge Mendes were also said to be part of the investigation which has reportedly relied heavily on evidence provided by Football Leaks. Porto said in a statement that “Neither FC Porto nor its president have been questioned about any judicial investigation.”
Meanwhile, the offices of the Albania-born agent Fali Ramadani – whose Lian Sports company represents Real Madrid’s Luka Jovic, City’s Leroy Sané and Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly among several other high-profile clients – were searched by tax authorities in Majorca last week in connection with a €100m money-laundering investigation. Details of his alleged misconduct was first exposed by Buschmann and Winterbach’s second book, Football Leaks 2, which was published in Germany last year but has yet to be translated into English due to the number of delicate legal issues raised by their allegations.
“It’s crazy – in the football industry, every week you have some more news about authorities investigations that are based on Football Leaks but Rui is the only one in front of a judge,” says Buschmann. “When I met him for the first time at the start of 2016 he told me that he wanted to work as a whistleblower for Uefa and show them documents which would show the accounts clubs are hiding from FFP. It’s a shame that they never made contact with him, even after his public unveiling.”
Pinto’s lawyer, William Bourdon, said last week that he is planning to call his former client Edward Snowden as an “endorsement witness” via videolink from Russia where he has been granted asylum when the trial finally begins. That is expected to be next month, although Pinto is prepared to wait as long as it takes.
“There is a huge discrepancy between the way he is treated by the authorities and those he sees every day in the prison,” says Winterbach. “The guards were all very friendly with him and he told us they were all getting along just fine. Yet throughout this whole process, the attitude of the prosecutors and the judge has been almost hostile. He is being treated like he is a danger to society when he is actually a hero.”