Soccer Secrets Hacker Leaves Prison, Enters Lockdown

For Rui Pinto, it is a measure of a return to normal life. All the more so because much of the rest of Portugal’s 10 million inhabitants are also confined to their homes under restrictions imposed to halt the spread of coronavirus.

In recent years, Pinto, the Portuguese computer hacker, has garnered almost as much attention as the country’s most famous soccer stars, some of whose secrets he revealed in a startling series of leaks that shook the global soccer industry and beyond for almost four years until he was apprehended in Budapest and extradited to Portugal to answer 147 charges.

Until Wednesday, for more than a year, Pinto, 31, had languished in preventive custody in a Lisbon jail awaiting trial. Then, his lawyers, part of an international coalition that believe he should be granted whistle-blower status for the crimes and wrongdoing his leaks had exposed, announced that he had been released and placed in house arrest on condition that he not use the internet.

In the hours that followed, new details of the Pinto’s situation have emerged. He is staying in a small apartment owned by Portugal’s judicial police, and the release is linked to the possibility of Pinto sharing the passwords of 10 encrypted hard drives that were seized when the apartment in Budapest in which he was tracked down was raided.

The hard drives may hide a trove of new investigative material for the authorities in Portugal and beyond. The information Football Leaks made public — including player contracts, internal team financial documents and confidential emails — pulled back the curtain on the murky world of soccer finance, led to criminal tax prosecutions of several top players and even helped prompt officials in the United States to reopen a sexual assault investigation involving the Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo. (Officials in Las Vegas eventually decided not to pursue charges against Ronaldo.)

Even with Mr. Pinto in prison, the repercussions of his efforts continue to roil the soccer industry. Players and clubs have faced punishment from sporting and state authorities, and investigations into tax avoidance continue in several European countries.

His material was also responsible for European soccer’s governing body opening an investigation and then punishing English soccer champion Manchester City with a two-season ban from European competitions like the Champions League for breaching financial regulations. City is appealing.

Most recently, and most dramatically, in January, Pinto was revealed to be the source behind leaked documents and emails that revealed how Isabel dos Santos, Africa’s richest woman and the daughter of Angola’s former president, had amassed her $2 billion fortune. Last month, a Portuguese judge ordered the seizure of all dos Santos’s assets in the country and in January Angolan prosecutors accused her of embezzlement and money laundering. Dos Santos denies all the allegations against her. The revelations were dubbed “Luanda Leaks” and were published by a consortium of international media outlets that included The New York Times.

William Bourdon, a Paris-based lawyer on Pinto’s legal team, who has represented other high-profile people who leaked sensitive information into the public domain, including the former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, said he believed Pinto’s link to the dos Santos case has helped to change perceptions of Pinto in Portugal, where his supporters portray him as a genuine whistle-blower and his opponents paint a darker character. One of the charges Pinto faces is connected to an alleged extortion attempt of a soccer agency in which Pinto offered to delete confidential and highly damaging information in exchange for as much as 1 million euros.

“I do think Luanda Leaks has been an earthquake,” Bourdon told The Times. “I do think it’s opened the eyes of the Portuguese people to his serious contribution.”

Still, the charges against Pinto remain serious. As well as the alleged extortion attempt, he burrowed into the servers of several Portuguese entities, including the top-division soccer team Sporting Clube de Portugal, the national soccer federation, a well-known law firm and even the country’s attorney general’s office.

The trial, despite the impact of the ongoing coronavirus crisis, is scheduled to take place later this summer. And there remains uncertainty over what Pinto’s cooperation with the Portuguese authorities can bring him. Portugal law does not allow cooperation agreements with criminally accused individuals, something that is commonplace in the United States. There are also concerns the information gleaned by Pinto would be inadmissible in a Portuguese court because it was illegally obtained.

For now, Pinto’s lawyers say, the plan is to try and get him moved to larger, more comfortable accommodation than he currently finds himself in.

As for what might be revealed next, Bourdon said there are likely to be a number of anxious individuals and institutions.

“If we reach a point where all the data is used in Portugal, it will be a source of worry for those who are scared of being held to account,” he added.

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