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In a week when Brussels has called for the protection of whistleblowers – advocating sanctions for those “who try to pursue them” – Portugal has blatantly ‘gone the other way’: insisting on jailing the 31-year-old computer geek said to be behind the famous Football Leaks exposé that has already recovered millions of euros in Spain in ‘unpaid taxes’.
Rui Pinto is ‘under lock and key’ for 19 out of every 24 hours.
His crimes? Well, that’s where this gets increasingly confusing.
Information uncovered by Pinto has been “extraordinarily important for the defence of public interest”, claims euro MP Ana Gomes.
Public prosecutors and tax inspectors in other European countries are keen to get as much of Pinto’s information’ as they can.
But for the time being at least, the young man who ‘fled Portugal for Hungary in 2015’ is being treated by the nation’s press as a form of Public Enemy No 1: an insidious ‘hacker’ who dared peek into the inner circles of an institution that, up till now, has enjoyed apparent impunity.
Ana Gomes is one of the extremely few public voices who have defended Pinto. Her ‘reward’ in a country where it is still a crime to besmirch someone’s honour, is that she now purportedly faces two prosecutions for defamation.
Gomes has told television news anchors that she ‘stands by every word’ she told sporting newspaper Record last week. The fall-out however promises to be tremendous. For Gomes has gone into ‘forbidden territory’ by questioning the very ethos of Portuguese justice.
Discussing the alleged ‘crimes’ stacked up against Pinto she queried whether Portuguese justice is dancing to the tune of the ‘cash registers’ of a ‘very special fund’ based in the tax haven of Malta “known to have a Kazakhstan mafia behind it”?
Is this the same justice “that does not act to help recover millions (in unpaid taxes) as Spanish authorities have done”?
And is this the same justice system “that doesn’t act over high-ranking criminals like Ricardo Salgado” – cited in myriad corruption investigations but ostensibly as free as he was before BES came crashing down to the ruination of thousands?
Gomes’ words came in a week when Salgado was actually photographed boarding a flight to Geneva ‘to visit his daughter’, and a judge in Aveiro decided against sending the kingpin in one of Portugal’s longest and most expensive corruption trials to jail “because the limits on many of his crimes had expired”.
As Gomes told Record, the spotlights of the world are now focused on Portuguese justice.
This little country on the edge of Europe has suddenly gone beyond the judge who thought it was okay for an adulterous woman to be beaten with a nail-spiked club “because adultery is a very serious attack on the honour and dignity of a man”. It has becoming a question of how far can Portuguese justice be allowed to go before it is pulled back and called into account.
Talking to SIC television on Wednesday, commentator and journalist Rui Santos said “whistleblowers in jail and corrupt people left free? No. Rui Pinto cannot be ignored because he had the courage at a determined moment to reveal certain situations that have public interest”.
Santos said that in his opinion there “is no doubt whatsoever that the system protects the powerful”.
Whoever doesn’t “kneel” before the powers that be in football, “will be sued. It has always been that way”, he told an extremely uncomfortable-looking news anchor.
Ana Gomes, for her determination, will “go through a bad patch, because the powers are not forgiving”.
But what is important is that football “cannot be an untouchable industry”, Santos stressed, adding “thank goodness there is Ana Gomes in this country” as there are so few people with the courage to call out injustices generally.
Santos’ powerful conclusion was that the country is “sick and tired, and we have already all paid an extremely high price, over the fact that untouchables have lived in this country for years and years and years”.