After pressure from the international community, police officers in Budapest have arrested hacker Rui Pinto, a 30-year-old Portuguese citizen, in connections with the Football Leaks website which has released over 70 million leaked documents targeting football clubs, players and those within the football community since its launch in the fall of 2015.
Under the code name “John,” Pinto used Football Leaks to publish illegally obtained documents that sent shockwaves in the football community and led to numerous investigations throughout Europe. Pinto now faces extradition to Portugal for aggravated attempted extortion charges which could carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
The charges stem from a 2015 incident when Pinto, under the assumed name Artem Lobuzov, reportedly tried to blackmail the agency Doyen Sports, an investment group specializing in alternative funding to football clubs in player acquisition and trading. Doyen Sports filed a criminal complaint against Pinto with the Portuguese authorities after receiving an email reportedly from Pinto threatening to publish internal company documents unless the fund made a ‘generous donation’.
In a recent interview with German news magazine Der Spiegel, the publication that received the trove of incriminating documents and is responsible for several investigative reports linked to Football Leaks, a lawyer representing the hacker admitted that the instance of blackmail involving Doyen is “absolutely true that he (Pinto) wanted to test the point to which Doyen would be willing to go.”
While some might say that Football Leaks has served a whistleblower function exposing scandals and crimes in the football world, it has also done irreparable damage to several legitimate businessmen including Tevfik Arif, who founded Doyen Sports with his brothers because of his passion for football, and many prominent players and clubs. There have also been some questions regarding the authenticity of the incriminating documents disclosed by Football Leaks.
Current Juventas forward Cristiano Ronoldo was a prominent target of the leaked documents filed on Football Leaks. Accusations against Ronaldo include allegations that the star player raped a US model in Las Vegas in 2009. Ronaldo denies the allegations and when asked about them during a recent press conference he said his “lawyers are confident” and “the truth is always coming.” Der Spiegel reported that Ronaldo reached an out-of-court settlement with the woman who also signed a non-disclosure agreement. His lawyer argued that “the reasons that led him to do so are at least to be distorted” adding that, “This agreement is by no means a confession of guilt.”
Ronoldo, among other players, has also been accused of tax evasion after Football Leaks released documents detailing player contracts, revealing a complicated structure of salaries and benefits making it difficult to assess tax obligations.
Der Spiegel has also confirmed that numerous documents within Football Leaks alluded to private matters that could cause irreparable damage to professional football players including their sexual orientation, adultery and failed relationships. Several media outlets have refused to publish materials due to their questionable content.
Football Leaks also released documents damaging to several football clubs. A leak of internal emails from Lisbon’s Benfica Club that were published on Football Leaks led to a series of difficulties for the club. These emails led authorities to open numerous investigations into the club. Riu Pinto is reported to have handed over a trove of incrimination emails to Benfica’s rival FC Porto who used them to accuse Benfica of having an improper influence over referees. The same series of emails were also used to initiate a series of corruption lawsuits against the team and their advisors for misconduct within the club and mishandling of confidential documents.
Investigations into Football Leaks documents also targeted Fifa president and former Uefa general secretary Gianni Infantino’s involvement in a deal to help Manchester City and Paris St-Germain avoid harsh financial penalties after breaching financial fair play sanctions for receiving sponsorship deals beyond those recommended by independent experts. Infantino defended his actions, describing them as an attempt to save European club football. FIFA and UEFA argue that these leaks undermine their leadership and mischaracterize their actions.
In addition to extradition of Riu Pinto, the Portuguese authorities have also demanded that the entirety of his computer equipment seized by the Hungarian police be handed over as evidence in his case. It is unclear what additional evidence they may hold and who else may be implicated in assisting Pinto in his campaign against the football world.
Pinto’s lawyer, William Bourdon, who has represented Julian Assange of Wikileaks and Edward Snowden, has argued that his client is a whistleblower and should be protected from prosecution under this designation. One clear problem with this classification is that whistleblowers are insiders within organizations and have access to the confidential documents and evidence of wrongdoing they are exposing to the public. In this case, however, Pinto is an outsider who accessed private documents through hacking into the property of football clubs and organizations. The fact that he obtained his evidence through illegal means should preclude him from being able to claim whistleblower status.
In an interview before his identity was revealed, Pinto acknowledged that, “We have very serious, secure sources. However, some of our sourced do not realize that they are our sources.” A statement that obviously implies that some sort of hack took place. The sheer volume and breadth of the documents shared by Football leaks, including a vast number of internal email dumps from multiple organizations, suggests that nefarious means were used in their collection. While Pinto has denied that he is a hacker, it is obvious that he is being supported by a network of cyber criminals supplying him with his information. This raises ethical questions about the motives of these individuals and the reliability of the materials they are producing.