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Football Leaks: Man behind release of millions of documents goes on trial in Portugal

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2019 photo of Rui Pinto ahead of his extradition from Hungary to Portugal
2019 photo of Rui Pinto ahead of his extradition from Hungary to Portugal   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Pablo Gorondi
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The trial for the man behind ‘Football Leaks’ - the release of a trove of confidential documents relating to alleged corruption in football - begins today in Lisbon.

Rui Pinto, 31, is facing 90 charges brought by the Portuguese prosecutor’s office, ranging from data theft, computer hacking and extortion.

The revelations contained in the millions of documents - which led to hundreds of news articles and investigations - embarrassed star players, top clubs, agents and football officials.

Pinto admits he was behind the exposés published between 2015-18 on the Football Leaks website, where he used the pseudonym “John,” but argues he is a whistleblower, not a criminal.

What was ‘Football Leaks’?

Pinto is accused of hacking into the computer systems of a host of football clubs and intermediaries, including agents, lawyers and investment firms.

He obtained millions of documents and correspondence, which was then published on the Football Leaks website, and sent to media outlets.

German magazine Der Spiegel was the first to publish material relating to the leaks in 2016.

The website published information about the transfer fees and salaries of stars such as Brazil’s Neymar, then at FC Barcelona, Radamel Falcao at AS Monaco and Gareth Bale at Real Madrid.

It also alleged that Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain flouted European football’s spending rules.

Pinto says a “substantial part” of the documents he published were anonymously leaked to him, not hacked.

His lawyers say Pinto has helped authorities in Europe and beyond to tackle crime in the sport, especially murky financial dealings.

They say he was about to enter a witness protection program in France, with whose authorities he was cooperating on football investigations before he was arrested.

They say he also cooperated with authorities in Belgium, Switzerland and Malta.

Police in Portugal say he has helped with their inquiries, too, prompting a Lisbon judge to release him from pretrial custody a month ago.

He was tracked down to Hungary by authorities, from where he was extradited last year.

'Outraged' by illicit money-making

Pinto is arguing that the ends justify the means. He insists he was motivated by public duty in exposing serious crimes that authorities missed.

His lawyers said in a letter to the trial judge that Pinto was “outraged” by illicit money-making in the sport and investigated what was going on because authorities weren’t doing enough.

Among Pinto’s defence witnesses are US whistleblower Edward Snowden, who leaked classified information from the National Security Agency and may testify by video link from Russia. The defence has also called Portugal’s chief detective, Luis Neves.

Pinto also says he was behind an exposé earlier this year about alleged financial wrongdoing in Angola, a former Portuguese colony in Africa, which became known as “Luanda Leaks” in a reference to that country’s capital.

If found guilty on all counts, Pinto could face decades in prison.