Chasing Soccer’s Secrets, Hacker Found Those of Africa’s Richest Woman, Too

The Portuguese fan was on the lookout for soccer’s secrets and techniques when he started hacking into the authorized and monetary networks supporting the sport’s multibillion-dollar business 5 years in the past.

For years, he plundered inside paperwork and secret agreements, unmasking questionable practices — and even criminality — by attorneys and gamers and groups, after which printed the data anonymously on a platform he known as Football Leaks. Furious groups cursed him. Agents threatened to sue him. Embarrassed investigators vowed to arrest him.

What none of them knew was that the huge trove of knowledge obtained by the hacker, a spiky-haired 31-year-old soccer fanatic named Rui Pinto, additionally held a a lot greater secret.

Over dinner one evening in late 2018 in Budapest, the place he was hiding earlier than he was ultimately detained and extradited to Portugal, Mr. Pinto informed his French lawyer William Bourdon that he believed he had obtained info that exposed how Isabel dos Santos, Africa’s richest girl and the daughter of Angola’s former president, had amassed her $2 billion fortune.

Those secrets and techniques, revealed this month in worldwide information media accounts, including articles in The New York Times, have led to an investigation of Ms. dos Santos, who’s accused of plundering Angola’s state petroleum firm and different establishments to bankroll a sprawling enterprise empire that included stakes within the impoverished nation’s diamond exports, its dominant cell phone firm, two of its banks and its largest cement maker.

Until his arrest and extradition to Portugal final March, Mr. Pinto had since 2015 largely sowed panic within the corridors of power on this planet’s hottest sport. In his hacking, he had focused not solely a few of soccer’s biggest teams and institutions but additionally legislation corporations {and professional} providers that supported their actions.

One connection between the soccer and dos Santos leaks is that every included the discharge of confidential paperwork from the highly effective PLMJ legislation agency, which relies in Lisbon. Several of the fees Mr. Pinto faces in Portugal are instantly linked to his illegally having access to PLMJ’s pc server.

It was attorneys from PLMJ who in 2015 prepared a 16-page brief for Ms. dos Santos declaring the tax benefits of domiciling firms in Malta. Ms. dos Santos subsequently used firms primarily based in Malta for a few of her most high-profile transactions. One of her Maltese firms was used as a intermediary to rent consultants from corporations akin to Boston Consulting Group, McKinsey & Company and PwC for recommendation on overhauling Angola’s state oil firm, the place she served as chairwoman from 2016 to 2017, after being appointed to the publish by her father.

“We have of course no knowledge of the source of the documentation on which the recent press stories are based,” stated Luís Pais Antunes, a managing accomplice at PLMJ. In any case, he added, “It is impossible that the documentation that is being used for the bulk of the stories is in any way related to PLMJ or was ever at our disposal.”

Unsure of precisely what he had when his soccer hacking turned up a whole lot of 1000’s of pages associated to the businesses managed by Ms. dos Santos and her husband, Mr. Pinto requested Mr. Bourdon, in response to the French lawyer, if he might take a tough drive containing the info to a whistle-blower platform Mr. Bourdon had arrange in Africa.

Mr. Bourdon stated in an interview previously week that he rapidly got here to the conclusion that the size and complexity of the data meant it wanted to be shared with the extra skilled and higher resourced International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. In the previous week, that consortium and worldwide information media organizations, together with The Times, printed particulars of Ms. dos Santos’s enterprise dealings.

“He fell into this,” Mr. Bourdon stated. He stated that along with sharing the info obtained by Mr. Pinto with journalists, he additionally had offered the laborious drive containing the data to France’s nationwide monetary crimes prosecutors.

“I built a very confident relationship with him, and he was happy to share the information with us about this big African scandal,” stated Mr. Bourdon, who is understood for representing different high-profile people who leaked delicate info into the general public area, together with the previous intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

The revelation that Mr. Pinto, a Portuguese citizen with no identified ties to Angola, was behind the leak of details about Ms. dos Santos undercut her claims that the revelations had been “a very concentrated, orchestrated and well-coordinated political attack, ahead of elections in Angola next year.”

“It is an attempt to neutralize me and to discredit the legacy of President dos Santos and his family,” she stated in an announcement after the publication of the damaging articles about her. Her father, José Eduardo dos Santos, was Angola’s president for 38 years till he stepped down in 2017.

The coronary heart of the Angolan investigation entails Isabel dos Santos’s tenure at Sonangol, the state oil monopoly, notably throughout November 2017, the month she was fired as its chairwoman. More than $57 million was withdrawn on the time from Sonangol’s account at EuroBic — a Portuguese financial institution the place Ms. dos Santos is the most important shareholder — to pay for a flurry of invoices issued by a Dubai firm owned by her good friend.

On Thursday, the Portuguese information company Lusa reported {that a} EuroBic banker who managed the Sonangol account, Nuno Ribeiro da Cunha, had been discovered lifeless on Wednesday evening at his home in Lisbon. Lusa cited a police supply who stated the demise gave the impression to be a suicide. EuroBic stated final Monday that it was ending its relationship along with her.

The lately leaked paperwork present an in depth account of how Ms. dos Santos exploited her nation’s sources, buying stakes in very important Angolan industries like telecommunications, diamonds and building — usually by orders signed by her father. She has denied any wrongdoing and has lengthy maintained that she is a self-made girl.

While Mr. Pinto has been hailed as a hero of types by these demanding higher transparency in soccer, his conduct has raised questions on his motivations. He reached an out-of-court settlement with the Caledonian Bank in 2014, for instance, after being accused of hacking into its techniques and transferring 1000’s of {dollars} from considered one of its shopper accounts.

Mr. Pinto has denied stealing the cash, however, citing a nondisclosure settlement, has declined to supply further particulars concerning the incident.

Mr. Bourdon stated he hoped the reporting of Mr. Pinto’s function within the affair may enhance his shopper’s standing in Portugal, the place he’s dealing with trial later this yr on 93 costs associated to his efforts to reveal the internal workings of the soccer business. He faces as a lot as 30 years in jail if convicted on the entire costs in opposition to him.

For years, hiding behind the pseudonym John, Mr. Pinto revealed confidential info — together with participant contracts, inside workforce monetary paperwork and confidential emails — that pulled again the curtain on the murky world of soccer finance. His disclosures, whereas unlawful, led to prison tax prosecutions of a number of high gamers and even helped immediate officers within the United States to reopen a sexual assault investigation involving the Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo.

Officials in Las Vegas ultimately determined to not pursue costs in opposition to Ronaldo, however even with Mr. Pinto in jail the repercussions of his efforts proceed to roil the soccer business. Players and golf equipment have confronted punishment from sporting and state authorities, and investigations into tax avoidance proceed in a number of European nations.

One of probably the most notable open instances entails the Premier League champion Manchester City. European soccer’s governing physique is weighing a possible ban of the team from the lucrative Champions League after finding out particulars, revealed by Football Leaks, of an obvious effort by City to bypass monetary guidelines.

Mr. Bourdon has argued that Mr. Pinto must be thought-about a whistle-blower, despite the fact that he’s not a soccer insider, and although his strategies may need been unlawful.

“He took all the risks,” Mr. Bourdon stated. “He’s suffered because he was inspired by a feeling that his data needed to be published in order to understand all the gloomy and corrupt practices in the football community.”

Mr. Pinto has remained in custody since his return to Portugal, the place the authorities have accused him of illegally having access to confidential knowledge and, most vital, making an attempt to extort a strong sports activities company. In that incident, the Portuguese prosecutors stated Mr. Pinto sought as a lot as 1,000,000 euros (about $1.1 million) in return for deleting info belonging to the corporate, Doyen Sports.

Michael Forsythe contributed reporting.

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