Protecting Whistleblowers Crucial for Europe’s Fight Against Corruption

The Signals Network

The recent extradition of Football Leaks whistleblower, Rui Pinto, who unearthed pivotal revelations of public interest, offers a unique opportunity for the European judicial system. To effectively fight corruption, the European Union must protect its whistleblowers

Rui Pinto 5 March Trial Rafael Buschmann.jpg

Football Leaks whistleblower Rui Pinto on trial in Budapest, 5 March 2019 (photo: Rafael Buschmann)

On April 16, the European Parliament voted to adopt an historic agreement on whistleblower protection with a directive to protect citizens that reveal breaches of public trust and abuses of power due to come into force later this year. It is the first time a uniform law has been passed that applies to employees, non-employees, former employees, the self-employed and also their families. It is a step in the right direction to protect all individuals who come forward with key public interest information - the whistleblowers. Thirty-year old Rui Pinto, from Portugal, is among them.

Linked to “Football Leaks”, which exposed major wrongdoings in the football industry, Pinto has been charged with hacking and attempted extortion, and is now in prison in Portugal awaiting trial.

Football Leaks are key revelations of high public interest that have been investigated and published by major European media organisations including Der Spiegel, Mediapart, El Mundo, Le Soir, Falter, NRC, Politiken, The Sunday Times, Reuters and other members of European Investigative Collaborations (EIC Network), which include The Black Sea, since 2016.

As one of the publishers, Mediapart, has highlighted, none of the published articles provided grounds for defamation, which attests to the accuracy of the information Pinto provided. In fact, many of the Football Leaks revelations initiated judicial investigations across Europe, including France, Belgium, Switzerland, Spain, and even the United States. The Football Leaks are also part of a line-up of revelations, including Luxleaks, and the Panama and Paradise Papers that European Commissioners are sifting through, for financial crimes.

For all these reasons, The Signals Network, joined by Reporters Without Borders, Freedom of the Press Foundation, Blueprint for Free Speech and The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom are calling for support for Rui Pinto, especially from all those committed to defending press freedom and public interest journalism.

Despite increasing support from the general public, European football fans, and European policy makers, Pinto is in detention at a precarious time. His case has brought competing interests at loggerheads. While one side is focused on penalising whistleblowing, the other is intent on fighting corruption by protecting whistleblowers.

While the Portuguese authorities are willing to prosecute Pinto, European counterparts, such as France and Belgium rely on the evidence he provided to advance their investigations of football players and clubs, and need his testimonial support. We are heartened to see prosecutors from nine countries cooperating to explore evidence from the Football Leaks as part of a new initiative of the European Judicial Cooperation agency, Eurojust. That Pinto has been awarded for the European Parliament GUE/NGL Award for Journalists, Whistleblowers and Defenders of the Right to Information, is further proof of acknowledgement, and from the highest ranks of the EU.

The French, Hungarian and Portuguese legal team (William Bourdon, David Deak and Francisco Teixeira da Mota) representing Rui Pinto and supported by the Signals Network are confident that these developments strengthen their defence of Pinto.

Not extending sufficient protection to the sources of the information used as evidence to fight corruption is not just a double standard. It is a regression in EU’s battle against corruption.

As the European parliamentary elections approach, it is time to protect not just the citizens who come forward with public interest information but also the information itself, which will serve the long term goals of justice and accountability.

To mark the beginning of a new era of transparency, we urge that European institutions fully implement the directive and afford comprehensive protection of whistleblowers, starting with Pinto. Acquitting Pinto from the current charges will allow him to fully participate as a protected witness, in the series of investigations that the American and European Judicial systems have undertaken.

Signatories by alphabetic order


Christophe Berti, editor in chief, Le Soir

Michael Bird, sub-editor, The Black Sea

Laurene Bounaud, Co-presidente, Maison des Lanceurs d’Alerte

Rafael Buschmann, Reporter, Der Spiegel / Author of the book “Football Leaks: Uncovering the Dirty Deals Behind the Beautiful Game”

Ștefan Cândea, co-founder and coordinator of European Investigative Collaborations (EIC)

Christophe Deloire, Secretary General, Reporters without Borders

Antoine Deltour, Luxleaks whistleblower

Suelette Dreyfus, Executive Director, Blueprint for Free Speech

Mithat Fabian Sozmen, sports journalist, Evrensel

Stephanie Gibaud, UBS whistleblower

Sven Giegold, Member of the European Parliament (MEP)

Ana Gomes, MEP, vice-chair of the European parliament’s committee on financial crimes and tax evasion

Gerd Gottlob, Head of Sports, NDR

Delphine Halgand-Mishra, Executive Director, The Signals Network

John Hansen, senior investigative reporter, Politiken

Martin Häusling, Member of the European Parliament (MEP)

Clemens Hoeges, Lead Editor, Der Spiegel

Berislav Jelinić, editor-in-chief, Nacional

Christian Jensen, editor-in-chief, Politiken

Eva Joly, MEP, vice-chair of the European parliament’s committee on financial crimes and tax evasion

Lutz Kinkel, Managing Director, European Centre for Press and Media Freedom

John Kiriakou, CIA torture whistleblower

Stelios Kouloglou, Member of the European Parliament

Philippe Lamberts, co-President of the GreensEFA Group in the European Parliament

Jeppe Laursen Brock, journalist, Politiken

Sandor Lederer, Executive Director, K-Monitor

Simona Levi, Founder, Xnet

Geoffrey Livolsi, co-Founder, Disclose

Jesús Maraña, Editorial Director, infoLibre

Joël Matriche, Journalist, Le Soir

Frederik Obermaier, Investigative journalist, Pulitzer Prize Awardee, Die Suddeutsche Zeitung

Fatih Polat, editor-in-chief, Evrensel

Begoña Pérez Ramírez, journalist, infoLibre

Fabio Pietrosanti, Hermes Center for Transparency and Digital Human Rights (GlobaLeaks)

Gregoire Pouget, President co-fondateur, Nothing2Hide

Edwy Plenel, Co-founder and President, Mediapart

Catalin Prisacariu, journalist, Romanian Centre for Investigative Journalism

Gilles Raymond, Chairman, The Signals Network

Manuel Rico, editor in chief, infoLibre

Virginie Roziere, Member of the European Parliament

Zeynep Sentek, managing editor, The Black Sea

David Schraven, Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Correctiv

Craig Shaw, investigations editor, The Black Sea

Bart Staes, Member of the European Parliament

Jacques Testart, Co-president, Maison des Lanceurs d’Alerte

Trevor Timm, Executive Director, Freedom of the Press Foundation

Ernest Urtasun, Member of the European Parliament

Leon Willems, Director, Free Press Unlimited

Michael Wulzinger, Reporter, Der Spiegel / Author of the book “Football Leaks: Uncovering the Dirty Deals Behind the Beautiful Game”

Blaž Zgaga, journalist, Nacional

The Signals Network is a European-American foundation dedicated to working with top tier medias launching international investigations. The Signals Network also provides support to selected whistleblowers.

The Signals Network, founded by Gilles Raymond, a successful French entrepreneur, operates in Europe and North America. It partners with seven media groups representing a cumulative audience of 144 million readers in four languages.