The Scottish Mail on Sunday
CITY FACING NEW ‘CHEAT’ CLAIMS
● Football Leaks hacker will help Premier League inquiry ● Fresh evidence of club’s inf lated sponsorship deals
THE controversial figure at the heart of the ‘Football Leaks’ organisation that exposed wrong-doing across global football is willing to assist the Premier League as they continue to investigate Manchester City for alleged breaches of their rules.
Portuguese Rui Pinto, 32, is currently in a witness protection programme in his home country, where a trial against him for alleged hacking and other charges is likely to resume next month.
A self-styled whistleblower, Pinto did a deal with Portuguese judicial authorities to hand over hundreds of millions of documents in his possession that might assist them with various corruption investigations. Previously under house arrest, he has been at liberty since August last year, albeit with round-the-clock police protection for his own security.
Neither the Premier League nor City will make any comment on precisely what breaches are being looked at, only that the allegations arise from ‘Football Leaks’ materials, sourced by Pinto and published by German magazine Der Spiegel in 2018.
Pinto is now willing to co-operate with the Premier League — and any investigatory body looking at wrong-doing or corruption — if they want assistance.
Last night, his lawyers, Francisco and Luísa Teixeira da Mota, told The Mail on Sunday: ‘Rui remains committed to collaborate with national and international authorities in order to help uncover wrongdoing in football and contribute to football’s transparency.’
The development comes at the end of a week when three of the most senior judges in Britain ruled that the existence of a legal battle between the Premier League and City — now two-and-a-half-years old — should no longer remain secret.
Dozens of pages of paperwork released in conjunction with the Court of Appeal judgment have laid bare the League’s frustration at City’s long-term non-cooperation and refusal to hand over documents that might incriminate them — or indeed exonerate them.
League lawyers told one hearing ‘the tactic the club has adopted has been to make as many procedural applications and complaints as it possibly can in order to slow the day when it will actually have to provide the documents and information.’
Other papers laid out how the Premier League issued a formal complaint against City as long ago as August 2019, seeking disclosure of information, then began arbitration proceedings when the club argued the PL wasn’t independent. City began the arbitration process, then made a legal challenge to its legitimacy, and have since made a series of secret legal appeals to keep all these matters secret.
This newspaper discovered the extent of the legal wrangling in April but was prevented from reporting them. A judge, under the principles of ‘open justice’, did allow the MoS access of hearings however. Another judge, Lord Justice Males, expressed in his verdict to make the case public and his frustration at the City’s noncooperation with the PL.
‘This is an investigation which commenced in December 2018. It is surprising, and a matter of legitimate public concern, that so little progress has been made after two and a half years, during which, it may be noted, the club has twice been crowned as Premier League champions,’ he wrote. The MoS has seen details of apparently anomalous sponsorship payments made to City since 2010. It is not known what, if anything, City have now handed to PL investigators, or whether the PL will seek assistance from Pinto at some point.
There are multiple examples of ‘whistleblower’ defences where documents obtained illegally have been used to expose wrong-doing, from Edward Snowden to the Panama Papers. Prosecutors in Belgium, Switzerland, France, Germany and now Portugal among other places have sought Pinto’s help to probe corruption from tax avoidance to money laundering.
In 2019, a former senior FIFA official told this newspaper that FIFA had been using ‘Football Leaks’ documents as a ‘hugely useful investigative tool’ for years, despite being aware they may have been obtained by hacking, because in many cases FIFA couldn’t trust clubs to provide truthful information.