LISBON, Portugal (AP) — A Portuguese hacker whose explosive revelations rattled European soccer told judges at the start of his trial Friday that he was “disgusted” by what he uncovered and had acted in the public interest for no personal gain.
A Lisbon court is hearing the case against 31-year-old Rui Pinto, who was extradited last year from Hungary where he had lived since 2015, after his exposés on the “Football Leaks” website. The disclosures embarrassed star players, top clubs and influential agents between 2015-18.
Pinto, wearing a dark blue open-necked shirt, jeans and sneakers, sat alone in the court facing three black-robed judges, as is customary in Portugal.
Pinto has admitted he was behind the information published on the website, where he used the pseudonym “John,” but argued he is not a criminal.
“I’m a whistleblower. I published a lot of information that’s in the public interest,” Pinto told the court in an opening statement after the 90 charges were read to him.
He was “shocked and disgusted” by what he found, and said he has collaborated with foreign and national authorities to help investigate alleged crimes in soccer.
“I made public a lot of things that never would have been known,” Pinto said, standing before the judges and reading from a blue spiral notebook.
The website published information about the transfer fees and salaries of such stars as Brazil’s Neymar, then at Barcelona, Radamel Falcao at Monaco and Gareth Bale at Real Madrid. It also alleged that Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain flouted European soccer’s spending rules.
His lawyers say Pinto has helped authorities in Europe and beyond to tackle crime in the sport, especially murky financial dealings.
They say Pinto was about to enter a witness protection program in France, with whose authorities he was cooperating on soccer investigations, before he was arrested, and has also cooperated with authorities in Belgium, Switzerland and Malta.
In brief testimony on the opening day, Pinto stated his name and said he is single and unemployed, though he gave his profession as a buyer and seller of old books and antiques.
After his arrest in Budapest, Pinto spent 18 months in pre-trial detention in Lisbon, including seven months in isolation, before being released last month after starting to cooperate with Portuguese police and entering a witness protection program.
Pinto told the court he is “in the weird position of being accused and a protected witness at the same time.”
He added: “My work as a whistleblower is finished.”
There was heavy security around the Lisbon court building. Pinto has claimed his life is in danger because of his revelations.
Pinto faces charges relating to hacking computers, including at the Portuguese attorney general’s office, the Portuguese Football Federation, a major Lisbon law firm, Sporting Lisbon soccer club, and Doyen sports management company. Sporting Lisbon also accuses him of sabotage, while Doyen alleges extortion.
If found guilty on all counts, Pinto could face decades in prison.
A verdict is not expected for months.
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