Last week 30-year-old Portuguese national Rui Pinto was arrested in Budapest following the release of a European arrest warrant by the Portuguese law enforcement authorities.
Since then he has been named as the source of Football Leaks, a cache of documents obtained by German news magazine Der Spiegel and shared with European Investigative Collaborations (EIC), of which The Black Sea is a member.
Pinto's lawyer William Bourdon has described him as a “great European whistleblower" who sought to expose criminal activity in football through his actions.
Following a court appearance in Budapest, Pinto remains under house arrest pending a hearing in the Hungarian capital in fewer than 60 days, when he faces possible extradition to Portugal, on charges of attempted extortion and violations of secrecy.
His lawyer, William Bourdon, has also represented Edward Snowden and prominent whistleblowers Hervé Falciani and Antoine Deltour, and here answers questions on what is playing out to be an exceptional case.
Last week, police in Budapest arrested Rui Pinto. Can you tell us if there is a difference between Pinto and John, the Football Leaks whistleblower?
Rui Pinto is John. That said, I'm not saying he's the only Football Leaks whistleblower. He is part of Football Leaks, but there are, of course, other sources.
Why are you revealing his identity now?
The arrest caused a significant amount of stress for him. After recuperating, it was clear to him that he has to confirm the fact that he is John. He needed a little time, which is understandable. Getting arrested and almost getting extradited was earth-shattering for him and his family. In addition, immediately after his arrest, he was presented by the Portuguese media simply as a hacker, whereas he is a significant whistleblower.
What kind of condition is your client in? How has he coped with the events of the past couple of days?
I had the opportunity to see his parents, who are extremely supportive of their son. They are, of course, frightened by all the media coverage. We had an intense meeting at which we prepared his defense. I'm convinced that he now has a very strong and competent international legal team dedicated to defending him. We believe that we can put together strong, convincing arguments. Of course, we're not naive. I consider this to be a historic, unprecedented case for Europe. It is based on the contrasts between the aggressive actions of the Portuguese authorities on the one side and, on the other, the interest of several investigative authorities in obtaining his testimony and access to all the data and hard drives for their investigations.
How long has Rui Pinto been your client?
Since last summer.
Why did you take the job?
I have spent more than 30 years trying to help people who are in very difficult situations because they have shown extraordinary courage, especially when they have good intentions and are prepared to take risks for the common good. And, of course, the work I have done on behalf of whistleblowers made it very natural for me to represent Rui Pinto.
Who is paying you?
I'm not getting paid to defend Pinto for the moment. The Hungarian and Portuguese lawyers are paid, and I'm very happy about that. But, given that I'm a member of the advisory board of the Signals Network Foundation (an organization that provides support for whistleblowers), it would be unethical for me to receive any money.
What is your impression of Rui Pinto?
He's a very strong character, courageous, and perceptive, and he's also young, at 30 years old. He is both proud of what he did and very humble. But he needs advisers because he's not always completely aware of all the complexities and consequences of what he did, although he is absolutely aware of the earthquake he triggered.
Pinto provided Der Spiegel and the European Investigative Collaborations (EIC) network of investigative journalists with access to more than 70 million documents. He has always denied to us that he was a hacker or that he collaborated with hackers. How did Pinto obtain these documents?
I cannot explain how he got these documents. The only thing that I can say is that this story has its origins in a love for football. And football has been damaged by the things he has discovered. And that had a domino effect. The more documents he got access to, the greater his outrage and indignation grew, and the more he considered it to be his duty to reveal to the world that his passion, football, has been so damaged by criminality, greed, money laundering and tax evasion.
Do you, or do you not know, if Pinto is a hacker?
It is obviously not my role to confirm if he is a hacker or not. I will only say that he had access to a lot of different data. And, in his opinion, what he discovered created a very strong duty to disclose that information.
Can you say whether he collaborates or has ever collaborated with hackers?
No, I cannot answer that. I don't know.
The Portuguese authorities have accused Rui Pinto of attempted extortion. He is said to have tried to blackmail the agency Doyen Sports, using the name Artem Lobuzov. They claim that your client demanded money, otherwise he would publish incriminating documents from Doyen. It is a very serious allegation. What is your response to it?
It is absolutely true that he wanted to test the point to which Doyen would be willing to go. It was more of a childish prank. He ultimately renounced the money of his own accord. Nothing happened, nobody paid any money. As such, this criminalisation of Pinto is overblown. We are convinced that he cannot be convicted under the Portuguese criminal code. This was explained to us by Rui's Portuguese lawyer, Francisco Teixeira da Mota. The opponent [to Pinto] is trying to gloss over the fact that he's a prominent whistleblower. They're trying to portray him as a little thug and to discredit all that he has done.
Attempted extortion is a serious criminal offence.
But when you attempt to commit an offence and then pull back voluntarily without any further action, you cannot be convicted. That is a fundamental legal principle.
Even if he doesn't get convicted of attempted extortion, is it still truly plausible that Rui Pinto acted solely out of his love for the game, without having any agenda of his own?
I don't see any trace of negative motives in his attitude. I've met a lot of whistleblowers, and some of them don't have the clear and pure intentions that Pinto has. I think in the case of attempted extortion, many would have followed through with it. Greed is something extremely universal. But I don't see any greed in Pinto's attitude.
What would you say to all the people, including a lot of football fans, who view Rui Pinto as someone who steals information and tried to blackmail a person?
Pinto believes the whole matter will be positive for the football world in the longer term because, right now, the law of greed is prevailing in sports. He's hoping for greater respect for the rule of law and the interests of taxpayers. These leaks have surely enabled many European countries to recover millions of euros for the public coffers. We notice that strong public support in his favour has started to emerge, and should intensify, in Portugal and beyond.
There have been reports in the Portuguese media that Rui Pinto stole $300,000 from a bank on the Cayman Islands. Pinto claims that there was an out of court settlement with the bank and that he was never charged. Do you have any comment on this?
He was ultimately cleared. If it had been a crime, I don't understand why the bank wouldn't have gone on to press charges against him. If the bank had considered it a crime, they wouldn’t have dropped the charges. It is absolutely clear, there is no debate.
The Portuguese authorities are pushing strongly for Rui Pinto's extradition to Portugal. Why are you trying to prevent that?
This is not the right time for me to share my entire line of defence. The Hungarian court will have to deal with a novel situation – the application of a principle of proportionality. On the one hand, there are minor allegations – namely the hacking and extortion, which he has completely denied. And on the other, there is the risk that if he is extradited, several European public prosecutors and tax administrations would be deprived of the possibility of evaluating all the documents and obtaining testimony from the main witness.
What do you fear might happen if he is extradited to Portugal?
Portugal is part of the European Union, but there is nevertheless a possibility that the impartiality and the neutrality of the justice system could be compromised. I want to be cautious. I have great respect for Portugal and I know that there are public prosecutors and public agencies there who are happy about what Pinto did. But there is also a mafia that tries to work against these people. Perhaps we will be positively surprised. For the moment, it would be naïve not to be skeptical that the Portuguese would really be willing to evaluate the data and take action against what appears to be a very powerful parallel world.
Why do you describe your client as a whistleblower?
Pinto fulfils all the conditions for a whistleblower that have been put forward by the European Court of Human Rights. He should be shielded from prosecution insofar as he has provided extraordinary services to the public interest. It is absolutely obvious that he did that. What is unusual here is that he is not a whistleblower who discovered misconduct in the company in which he was working, like Hervé Falciani at HSBC and Antoine Deltour of PwC. Pinto didn't work in the football world, he's only a fan. This makes his case a very universal one. Any citizen can draw the necessary conclusions of unlawful actions that they detect.
Does Rui Pinto have any previous convictions?
Not to my knowledge, no.
Will it still be possible to call Pinto a whistleblower if it turns out that he obtained the leaked documents in an unlawful manner?
The more ruthlessly the criminal world carries out its crimes and operates in secrecy, the more obliged one is to re-evaluate the law if one really wants to reveal the reality of these dirty deals. Whistleblower Antoine Deltour was charged with stealing documents and illegally penetrating computer systems, but he ultimately got acquitted because he uncovered how big corporations got favourable tax deals with the help of the authorities in Luxembourg.
The Football Leaks reports published by Der Spiegel and EIC have led to numerous investigations in the football industry, very often into charges of tax fraud. You announced that Pinto is working with the French financial prosecutor's office, Parquet National Financier. He also offered to cooperate with a Swiss prosecutor. Can you explain this cooperation in more detail?
I can't because the nature of this cooperation is confidential. I can, however, say two things. First: There is active cooperation with France. Second: I had a conversation with Damian Graf, the Swiss extraordinary prosecutor responsible for the FIFA affair, and we're presently exploring how this cooperation could be expedited. The Swiss prosecutor has expressed clear interest in continuing this cooperation. We also got in touch with the federal prosecutor in Brussels and he confirmed his desire to cooperate with Pinto and, if possible, to get access to the data as soon as possible.
Are there any other investigative authorities who have approached Pinto with requests for cooperation?
We have information that, a couple of years ago, some prosecutors got in contact with Pinto. But at the time, he was acting entirely anonymously. There was nobody giving him advice and he didn't know how to deal with these inquiries. As such, the answers he gave weren't always ideal. I now have the mandate to get in touch with the authorities, including the tax authorities in Germany and in other countries, like Spain and Portugal. There is a significant paradox between, on the one hand, the large number of authorities that are willing to cooperate with him, and on the other hand, the criminal prosecutions brought against him.
Documents from Football Leaks revealed the rape accusations against Cristiano Ronaldo. Following the revelations last fall, the police in Las Vegas reopened the investigation into the case. Have U.S. investigators contacted your client about this case?
Considering the outstanding importance of the data, it is natural that many authorities show curiosity in this matter. I will not provide further details about the nature of various contacts with prosecutors.
Is it correct that the Hungarian authorities confiscated his computers and hard drives at the time of Rui Pinto's arrest?
What kind of data were on them?
I will not answer this.
Can you say what the Hungarian authorities are planning to do with it?
We don't know what they're trying to do. Under international extradition law, there's a fundamental doctrine of specialty that would make it absolutely illegal to provide Portuguese prosecutors with access to any data that is not linked to the arrest warrant. The warrant only covers the attempted extortion claim and access to Sporting Lisbon data.
So, the whole warrant only covers events from 2015?
Yes, nothing else. Hence, it would be absolutely illegal to permit Portugal to have access to all the data on any hard drive.
Portuguese media have accused Rui Pinto of stealing documents from the football club Benfica. These documents were published and revealed significant misconduct within the club. The revelations triggered a number of investigations, and prosecutors charged Benfica with corruption. What role does Pinto play in this case?
There is a campaign against Rui Pinto conducted by some Portuguese media and many rumors have been relayed. Stealing information about Benfica is one of them. As a lawyer, I do not rely on rumors that have been spread, regardless of their origin. I focus on the defense of Mr. Rui Pinto and what he embodies.
Are you and Rui Pinto also willing to cooperate with associations like UEFA and FIFA if they get in contact with you?
It's Pinto's wish that information that is useful for the public interest be disclosed. As such, many avenues will be explored.
Opening picture: (left to right): Rui Pinto and legal team: William Bourdon, David Deak, Vincent Brengarth