Hungary To Decide Fate Of Man Behind Football Leaks
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Soccer is the most popular sport in the world. And it is awash in scandal. Club owners, coaches and players are accused of taking secret payments and stashing cash. The game's biggest star, Cristiano Ronaldo, was just fined $21 million for tax fraud. He also faces newly resurfaced charges of sexual assault. Many of the game's most incriminating secrets have been released by the website Football Leaks. The man behind those leaks, a Portuguese national named Rui Pinto, has been celebrated as a whistleblower. But he's now under arrest in Hungary. We're joined now by Tariq Panja of The New York Times. He covers soccer from London, where, of course, they call it football. Thanks so much for being with us.
TARIQ PANJA: It's great to be with you.
SIMON: The information Rui Pinto has provided has figured in some of the biggest investigations in the world of international soccer, hasn't it?
PANJA: Absolutely. He's lifted the veil on an industry which is, in many ways, operating in ways that the authorities - some of them - think are criminal. In other ways, there are ethical concerns over the way football, the world's most popular sport, is run. And some people say, without this guy, none of this would have been known.
SIMON: But the Portuguese government insists he's not a whistleblower. He's an extortionist.
PANJA: That's right. And that relates to one particular case, an alleged extortion attempt in 2015. Pinto had accessed documents belonging to this company, Doyen Sports. And he allegedly said to them, I will give you your documents back, and they won't go public if you pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for that not to happen. In the end, this never took place. Doyen's documents were all over the Internet. And the key point here, according to Pinto's lawyer, who happens to be the same lawyer that handled Edward Snowden's case - he represented him a couple of years ago. He says, I'm not denying the fact that there may have been an extortion attempt. What I'm saying is there was no follow-through. So there is no extortion.
SIMON: That's quite a novel defense, though, isn't it? He began to try and extort a group of people but didn't follow through.
PANJA: Absolutely. I was quite surprised. The lawyer, Monsieur Bourdon from Paris, was so open about this fact because I found it quite strange, quite jarring.
SIMON: What's known about Rui Pinto? Is he simply a dissatisfied, disenchanted soccer fan?
PANJA: Well, that's what they say. He's from Portugal. And Portugal is one of the nations that is totally obsessed with football. He is a soccer romantic, they call him. And they say he has become jaded because of what's happened to football, how money has infiltrated it. He had no connection with football. I spoke to his lawyer. He confirmed there is no connection here except he's a soccer fan. What we've seen is a spiky-haired, 30-year-old who looks much younger than that, diminutive in stature. When he was walking in the court, he seemed to have the air of a naughty schoolboy who'd been caught by the teachers, I must say, looking at those videos. I'm wondering whether he knows how serious this is, whether he cares how serious this is. But this is a serious case. It's been a week since he was arrested. The magnitude of it seems not to have touched upon his demeanor from what we've seen in pictures and videos.
SIMON: Tariq Panja of The New York Times. He covers international football, soccer, whatever you want to call it, from London. He spoke with us on Skype. Thanks so much for being with us.
PANJA: Great to be with you.
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