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Hungarian court approves extradition for Football Leaks hacker

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Budapest (AFP)

A Hungarian court approved the extradition Tuesday of a hacker linked to the Football Leaks website that has exposed alleged corruption, sparking investigations in several European countries.

Rui Pinto, 30, was detained on a European arrest warrant issued by his native Portugal on January 16 in the Hungarian capital where he lives.

"The extradition request cannot be refused. EU member states are expected to have similar judicial standards," said judge Judit Csiszar at Budapest's Metropolitan Court, referring to the European arrest warrant issued by Pinto's native Portugal.

Pinto, under house arrest for more than seven weeks, was accused by prosecutors of "aggravated attempted extortion, illegitimate access and theft of data from some institutions, including the state itself."

Earlier Pinto had addressed the court, saying: "I have not committed any of the criminal acts that I am accused of, I have never received any material gain for what I have done."

He said his actions were "in the public interest, to uncover the corruption that surrounds European football."

Judge Csiszar rejected an argument from Pinto's defence lawyers that the arrest warrant was invalid due to procedural errors.

Pinto's lawyers have said he is an "important part" of the Football Leaks website, which has published a series of revelations about alleged wrongdoing in the football world.

The website entrusted millions of pirated documents to a consortium of several European media organisations.

Released in two segments, the first at the end of 2016 and the second in November 2018, the documents exposed alleged football-related tax evasion, notably by Cristiano Ronaldo when he was at Real Madrid.

Other revelations alleged UEFA had helped Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City get around the Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules that are meant to regulate clubs' spending.

Pinto is also suspected of being behind a leak of internal emails at Lisbon's Benfica which led to fraud allegations and a corruption lawsuit involving Portugal's most successful club.

- 'Biased' authorities -

After his arrest Pinto's French lawyers described him as a football lover who "decided to reveal to the world the extent of criminal practices which not only affect the football world but do grave damage to its image".

Slight and youthful with spiky brown hair, Pinto is described by those who know him as "sociable and happy", according to information obtained by AFP from The Signals Network, an American foundation for whistleblowers.

According to media reports in his home country, Pinto, an FC Porto and Cristiano Ronaldo fan, is a self-taught IT expert who has been living in Budapest since early 2015.

He is thought to have arrived in the city on an exchange programme as part of his history studies, saying his homeland no longer provided "any prospect because of the economic crisis".

After establishing himself in Hungary, Pinto created the whistleblower website in 2016.

He started by uploading player and coach contracts belonging to Sporting Lisbon and the Malta-based branch of the hedge fund Doyen, which has attracted scrutiny for alleged dubious practices regarding the management of athletes' careers.

It was in relation to this activity that Pinto was arrested in the Hungarian capital.

The Portuguese magazine Sabado was the first to reveal his identity in September and linked him to the Football Leaks website.

Pinto told the court on Tuesday: "Since the Sabado magazine revealed my identity I have received several death threats, my family has been threatened at home and online, I should be on a witness protection scheme as exists for whistleblowers elsewhere in Europe.

"Instead the Portuguese authorities are treating me like a criminal, it is in their interest that something bad... happens to me," he went on.

He called the Portuguese authorities "biased regarding football matters" and said he had "completely cooperated with authorities -- like the French authorities -- who have contacted me".

Pinto told reporters on Tuesday: "At least nine or 10 European countries are with me, the exception is Portugal, that explains everything -- it's Portugal against Europe, maybe the world."

In an interview with the Expresso newspaper last month Pinto said his home nation wanted to "sabotage" investigations he is assisting in various European countries following the incriminating revelations.

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