Football Leaks' Rui Pinto gets suspended sentence, to remain free

Trial of Football Leaks whistleblower in Lisbon

By Sergio Goncalves

LISBON (Reuters) -A Lisbon court on Monday handed a four-year suspended prison sentence to Rui Pinto, the Portuguese man behind the Football Leaks website, for attempted extortion, illegal access to data and breach of correspondence, Judge Margarida Alves said.

The 34-year-old former history student and self-taught computer mastermind set up the website in 2015 to share confidential documents such as transfer fees or deals between sports entities.

Pinto was arrested in Hungary in January 2019, though he was later freed from house arrest and put under witness protection. The trial started in September 2020.

"The court decided Rui Pinto will be handed a single four-year sentence... but there is no need to serve the sentence in prison," the judge said. "The court hopes that the regret (Pinto has shown in court) is serious and that from now on he refrains from performing acts as described here."

While acknowledging the release of the more than 70 million documents, he argued that he was a whistleblower acting in the public interest.

Judge Alves of the Lisbon Central Criminal Court said that Pinto could not benefit from legal protection as a whistleblower since he had committed crimes to obtain the information before knowing its contents.

Pinto's targets included the football club Sporting, the Portuguese Football Federation, investment fund Doyen Sports and law firm PLMJ.

The judge said Pinto and lawyer Anibal Pinto committed the crime of attempted extortion of between 500,000 and 1 million euros from Doyen in return for not publicly disclosing information that would be harmful to Doyen's reputation.

Pinto faced 90 charges, but 77 counts of improper access and breach of correspondence were pardoned under an amnesty for some young people that was announced by the government in June.

Pinto's lawyer Francisco Teixeira da Mota told reporters the defence was satisfied with the suspended sentence since absolution was not possible after Pinto's confession.

"There was always the risk of a real sentence... I suppose his cooperation with authorities was taken into account," the lawyer said, adding that prosecutors still wanted to press other charges that had been "artificially separated" from the case.

"That's the worrying part, the accusation's logic that the accused could have three trials over the same facts from the same time," he added, without elaborating.

Football Leaks' data seen by Reuters showed how some of the richest and most prominent figures in soccer avoided tax by channelling earnings offshore.

The documents provided some of the evidence that led to a ban - since overturned - on English Premier League club Manchester City from competing in the European Champions League for alleged breaches of Financial Fair Play rules.

(Reporting by Sérgio Gonçalves, editing by Andrei Khalip)