MEP Ana Gomes visited accused Football Leaks hacker Rui Pinto in jail this week and recklessly awarded the indicted criminal with a whistleblower prize before the resolution of his impending case.
Earlier this week, Socialist Member of European Parliament Ana Gomes posted on her Twitter account that she had visited Rui Pinto, the hacker behind the controversial Football Leaks website, in prison in Portugal where he is currently awaiting trial.
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Football Leaks represents the largest exposé in sports history and has sent shockwaves through the world of professional football over the last three and a half years. Rui Pinto has been charged by Portuguese officials with aggravated attempted extortion and data theft after his extradition from Hungary earlier this year.
Since publishing stolen data on his website Football Leaks in September of 2015, Pinto has shared an additional 70 million documents and 3.4 terabytes of information with the German publication Der Spiegel and the European Investigative Collaborators. These documents, which include private email communications, purport to detail illicit and illegal practices committed by football players, teams, and associated sports organizations including tax evasion and the illegal recruitment of young players.
During her visit to the prison, Gomes says that she presented Pinto with the ‘whistleblower’ prize awarded to him by the European Unitarian Left (GUE/NGL) party of the European Parliament. The group also awarded a similar prize to the controversial founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, who is a self-proclaimed truth seeker and cybercriminal whose actions have been classified as politically motivated.
Gomes writes that she was instructed to give the award to Pinto by Antoine Deltour, the former PricewaterhouseCoopers employee who was arrested for his involvement in the Luxembourg Leaks tax scandal.
Deltour was originally indicted charges of theft, money laundering, fraud, and disclosing confidential information and trade secrets for his role in leaking documents related to tax-evasion schemes run by financial institutions in Luxembourg that helped large multi-national corporations avoid paying their global tax bills.
He was convicted of sharing information about PwC clients with journalists, but his conviction was later overturned by Luxembourg’s highest court claiming he should have been granted whistleblower protection for his role in the scandal.
Pinto to Claim Whistleblower Status
It is interesting to note that both Pinto and Deltour share an attorney, William Bourdon, a French solicitor who specializes in cases of this nature and has served on legal teams representing prominent whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden and HervéFalciani.
Bourdon has attempted to assert a whistleblower defense for his client, Rui Pinto, claiming that he acted in the interest of public good when he shared confidential information through Football Leaks. If Pinto were granted this special status, it could potentially protect him from prosecution.
A crucial element of the whistleblower defense, as detailed in the criteria put forth by the European Court of Human Rights, is demonstrating whether the whistleblower acted in good faith.
In order to claim whistleblower protection, it must be proven that a defendant’s actions were committed for the good of the public and not for personal or financial gain. In the case of Rui Pinto, this is where his whistleblower defense begins to disintegrate.
Pinto’s Actions Harm his Defense
Most often whistleblowers belong to the organization whose illegal or immoral actions they are exposing and have legal access to the data they share with the public or government entities. Pinto is not an employee or member of any of the football clubs or organizations whose email data he is accused of leaking. He is alleged to have come by this data through illegal means of hacking and the theft of confidential correspondences.
In addition to charges of data theft associated with criminal hacking, Pinto is accused of using the confidential data he obtained illegally to extort a financial settlement from Doyen Sports, a Malta-based organization involved in third-party ownership of football players’ economic rights that he targeted in an email hack.
Portuguese officials have reported that Pinto, using an alias, contacted the organization and agreed to remove their stolen email communications from his website if they agreed to pay him a large sum of money in return. Pinto’s actions indicate that he was motivated by greed and personal financial gain, rather than the public good.
His whistleblower defense appears to be simply an attempt to escape the consequences of his actions. The illegal means through which Pinto obtained his information and the attempted extortion after the fact should exclude him from receiving protective whistleblower status.
This is not the first time that Pinto has faced charges of hacking, stealing confidential data and theft. A Cayman Islands-based bank accused Pinto of hacking their systems and illegally transferring funds from their clients’ accounts to his personal account. The bank later dropped its complaint against Pinto after reaching a settlement out of court. Pinto’s actions in the attempted blackmailing of Doyen Sports and his theft from the bank represent a pattern of activity apparently motivated by nothing more than self-interest.
Consequences of Gomes’s Actions
Ana Gomes has taken a risk in awarding Pinto this award before the resolution of the impending case against Pinto. Her actions are presumptuous, dangerous and could cause irreparable damage to her reputation. There is a fine line between a hacker and a whistleblower. By affording Pinto this special status, Gomes seemingly failed to consider the larger implications of endorsing hacking as a legal means of accessing and sharing confidential data and communications.
Earlier this month, Gomes stated at a conference on the protection of whistleblowers that she helped to organize that Pinto could potentially, “provide valuable help in recovering money stolen through tax evasion.” The attendance of Pinto’s lawyers, whose defense strategy has yet to be heard by a court, at the conference also exposes what appears to be a conflict of interest for the MEP.
Capturing tax evaders has been a priority of several investigations that have arisen in Europe in response to Football Leaks by governments and legislators motivated to recover lost tax funds. The financial motivation of governments in this case seems to be at odds with the protection of the rights of their citizens. Praise of Rui Pinto suggests that retrieving tax money is more important to MEP Ana Gomes than protecting the private communication of citizens.