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Whistleblower Rui Pinto given four-year suspended sentence in Football Leaks trial amid ongoing legal woes

Dozens of charges against Pinto — who is also the source behind ICIJ’s Luanda Leaks — were dropped due to a recent amnesty. He faces 377 charges in a separate case tied to the exposé that revealed the dark underbelly of the global football industry.

Rui Pinto, the Portuguese whistleblower behind an unprecedented leak that rocked European football, was given a four-year suspended sentence by a Lisbon court after being convicted of nine crimes, including attempted extortion and unauthorized entry into computer systems.

The 34-year-old, who rose to global prominence after being revealed as the creator of the Football Leaks website, faced 90 charges but benefited from Portugal’s recent amnesty for some young offenders.

In addition to operating the Football Leaks website, Pinto also shared millions of confidential documents with journalists from Der Spiegel, European Investigative Collaborations and other outlets between 2015 and 2018. The files revealed how the world’s top football clubs, players and executives used extensive offshore networks to dodge taxes and avoid scrutiny of their business dealings.

“The court decided Rui Pinto will be handed a single four-year sentence … but there is no need to serve the sentence in prison,” Judge Margarida Alves of the Lisbon Central Criminal Court said.

“The court hopes that the regret [Pinto has shown in court] is serious and that from now on he refrains from performing acts as described here.”

A three-judge panel convicted Pinto of hacking computers belonging to Doyen sports investment fund, the Portuguese attorney-general’s office and a Lisbon law firm, according to Associated Press. He was also ordered to pay 3,000 euros (roughly $3,200) to Doyen and 15,000 euros ($16,100) to lawyer João Medeiros.

He and his co-defendant, lawyer Anibal Pinto, were found guilty of attempting to extort between 500,000 and one million euros (up to around $1.1 million at the time) from Doyen in exchange for not publishing information that could harm the company’s reputation. Anibal Pinto received a two-year suspended sentence for attempted extortion and was ordered to pay Doyen 2,500 euros ($2,700).

The judge dismissed Rui Pinto’s defense against the extortion charge — he claimed that he only intended to provoke Doyen and did not expect a response — as “not credible” and also deemed Pinto to be the sole operator of the Football Leaks website.

“The defendants were well aware of the illegality of their conduct,” Judge Alves said, according to Portuguese newspaper Expresso. 

Pinto, who was under 30 when he shared the millions of documents online and with journalists, has consistently argued he was a whistleblower acting in the public interest.

He was arrested in Hungary in 2019 and held in a Lisbon jail for more than a year before being put under house arrest. He was released into witness protection ahead of his trial in September 2020.

The court acquitted Pinto of several dozen other crimes related to improperly accessing computer systems and violation of correspondence due to his age and lack of criminal record, which made him eligible for an amnesty adopted by Portugal in July.

In January 2020, he was named as the source of the data underpinning ICIJ’s Luanda Leaks investigation, which exposed corruption and financial crime in oil-rich Angola, as well as several other countries with connections to businesswoman Isabel dos Santos, the central figure of the scandal.

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In a statement, Pinto’s lawyers said that they were “delighted” with the panel’s ruling, describing their client as one of Europe’s “greatest whistleblowers of recent years.”

“The Tribunal demonstrated its independence and also took into account all the explanations given by Rui Pinto during the debates, in addition to the very convincing testimonies of eminent witnesses,” they said.

The lawyers also slammed “a community of interests in Portugal” tied to the football industry, whose push for further legal action against Pinto, they said, amounts to “judicial persecution.”

During the trial, Pinto told the court, “My work as a whistleblower is finished,” according to AP. But his legal woes are far from over.

In July, Portuguese authorities accused the self-taught computer mastermind of 377 additional offenses related to hacking and leaking, correspondence crimes and computer damage in a new indictment.

More than 100 witnesses have been called by prosecutors to testify against him, including football star Cristiano Ronaldo, according to the indictment.

Micael Pereira, senior reporter with Portuguese newspaper Expresso, contributed reporting.

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