Meet Rui Pinto: The whistleblower who exposed Manchester City to UEFA

Debkalpa Banerjee

Rui Pinto had released an estimated 70 million documents exposing footballing royalty. (Source: Twitter)

In the wake of Manchester City's two-year ban from the UEFA Champions League, Twitter again found itself swamped with countless tweets featuring the hashtag, "#FreePinto". The whistleblower in reference is Rui Pinto, who provided the UEFA’s Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) the necessary information to hold the Premier League club guilty of breaching Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations.

Almost four-and-a-half years after he came to prominence because of his association with the Football Leaks scandal of 2015, Pinto, the infamous hacker, received recognition again on social media on Friday after UEFA's ruling. It was his work that exposed the "serious breaches" in UEFA's FFP regulations that Manchester City is accused of — that their owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan had been inflating their sponsorship revenue illegally.

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Pinto, a former university student, worked for the Football Leaks website from his modest home in Portugal, according to The Daily Mail. Using the pseudonym “John”, the Portuguese hacker exposed numerous examples of corruption at the highest level of sport.

Working with German magazine Der Spiegel, the 31-year-old released an estimated 70 million documents and 3.4 terabytes of information related to the sport's most influential names. From recovering Cristiano Ronaldo's tax evasion documents to gaining access to the private emails that were used to accuse Manchester City of violating the FFP regulations, he has been at the centre of quite a few murky developments in football.

Currently extradited to Portugal from Hungary, he is awaiting trial on 90 different counts. Charges against him include attempted extortion and cyber criminality. He has, since then, received support from around the world. Even Borussia Dortmund fans took banners to Signal Iduna Park protesting against his arrest.

Currently, Pinto's lawyers are pleading to the Lisbon Court of Appeal for their client, who has been in jail since last March, to be allowed out on bail.

Talking to Der Spiegel last month, Pinto admitted to knowing the risks of his whistleblowing work.

"I was aware that anything could happen. I knew that Portuguese authorities prosecute whistleblowers, so I had to be ready for that. The Portuguese authorities are afraid of what I know and that's why it is important that I not lose my mind."

"In the beginning, I wrote notes related to the case in my notebook, but then it was taken from me. It wasn't the prison guards who did it, but the Portuguese prosecutors. They do anything they want," he added.

Rui Pinto being extradited from Hungary in March 2019. (Source: AP Photo)

Apart from releasing documents related to tax evasion and breaches of FFP regulations by clubs, Pinto's network also recovered emails about the role of the FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, in negotiations that led to Paris Saint-Germain initially breaking FFP rules. Furthermore, the proposed plan about a European Super League was also laid bare in emails sent to Real Madrid’s president, Florentino Pérez.

"I am nervous because I am a target for attacks. Ever since last autumn, I have been receiving massive death threats on Facebook. I am afraid that if I set foot in a Portuguese prison, especially one in Lisbon, I will not leave it alive," said Pinto to Der Spiegel, who awaits a possible 10-year sentence.

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As for Manchester City, the club has said that they will “commence proceedings with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) at the earliest opportunity”. Although the fine of €30 million might not be a huge price to pay for the financial giants, the exemption from Europe's premium competition might hit the club hard — leading to the departures of their manager Pep Guardiola and players like Kevin de Bruyne, Leroy Sane, and Sergio Aguero.

Apart from being banned from the 2020/21 and 2021/22 editions of Champions League, there's also talk about points deduction in the Premier League as Football Association (FA) looks to adhere to UEFA's rules.