Student journalist Hannah Robbins discusses the world-shaking football leaks and the legality of whistleblowers in modern times.
In polarizing news last week, the Portugese government decided to charge Rui Pinto, the hacker behind Football Leaks, the professional football version of WikiLeaks, on 147 counts related to blackmail and extortion.
Football Leaks was a website that began in 2015 that focused primarily on leaking confidential information related to notable football clubs, coaches and players, but it didn’t stop there. Football Leaks was behind several big scandals in the sport.
Most of the information that was on the site related specifically to player salaries and showed which big name athletes were actually valued by clubs, and ways players and clubs were getting around different laws in the name of money. These leaks were pretty regular, and included plans for a new club competition, the Eurpoean Super League, that is planning to start in 2021. Some of the information in Football Leaks even helped lead the U.S. to reopen the sexual assault investigation into Cristiano Ronaldo.
Starting in early 2019, however, Pinto’s luck began to turn. In early January, Pinto was extradited back to Portugal to face trial related to his behavior toward a secret investment fund focused on the football trade market called Doyen Sports.
With Doyen Sports, Pinto got greedy. Pinto contacted Doyen and told them that if they did not pay him to keep quiet, he would leak information about their transfer fees and secret payments. According to legal documents, Pinto sought 1 million euros to delete that information.
However, Pinto’s case isn’t as open and shut as it seems. Pinto’s lawyers have decided that he deserves to go free under whistleblower laws, citing the multiple European laws relating to product licensing and tax evasion that his information has helped to make transparent.
Individuals backing Pinto have also stated that by punishing Pinto for these crimes he will be unable to cooperate with other ongoing investigations to bring shady financials to light. He was working with both Swedish and German prosecutors at the time of his extradition to bring underhanded dealings to light, further questioning the validity of Portugal’s decision to prosecute. This decision is especially questionable since Pinto never went through with the Doyen Sports extortion, instead publishing the information on Football Leaks.
Fans of Pinto would only need to point toward the chaos that Pinto, a self-proclaimed fan of the game, insighted in the name of transparency to see that, overall, Pinto was a whistleblower focused on the common good. Pinto single-handedly leaked information that caused the European football governing agency (UEFA) to consider banning Manchester City from future Champions Leagues after the convoluted mess of under-the-table player recruitment funds and disguised sponsorship payments came to light.
However, the decision will soon be in a judge’s hands. It is worth noting that all of this information was the work of one hacker. It makes one wonder how insecure all these companies systems were that it only took one hacker a short amount of time to gain access to all this information. Maybe Pinto’s security breaches did the sport a favor?