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Benfica under investigation for transfer-related financial fraud during Tiago Pinto’s tenure

Well, that doesn’t sound great.

AS Roma Press Conference Photo by Fabio Rossi/AS Roma via Getty Images

There’s breaking news in Portuguese football today after it emerged via CNN Portugal that the so-called “big three” clubs of Benfica, Sporting, and Porto are all being investigated by Portuguese tax authorities over allegations of player transfer-related tax fraud and other financial crimes. All three clubs have different allegations, and the news is fresh so there aren’t a ton of details right now, but it’s significant enough that club headquarters are being searched, as are the houses of football executives and players.

Benfica confirmed that they are under investigation and are complying with authorities as per a statement released today.

So why is this on a Tottenham Hotspur blog? Because Benfica’s director of football at the time the investigated transfers took place was Tiago Pinto, widely reported to be one of the top candidates to take over for Fabio Paratici as Tottenham’s Director of Football. Pinto was Director of Football at Benfica from 2017-2020, and is currently in a similar role at AS Roma, where he was instrumental in bringing in Jose Mourinho after he was sacked by Tottenham.

This is all breaking news so there’s a lot that we don’t know, but the reporting at the moment suggests that Benfica are under investigation for the transfers of Gonçalo Guedes, goalkeeper Vlachodimos, and midfielder Chiquinho which all took place between 2017 and 2020, when Pinto was in his role at the club. Potential charges include tax fraud, social securities fraud, and money laundering.

CNN Portugal only goes into detail on the Guedes transfer — Guedes was sold from Benfica to PSG in 2017 for about €30m, moved to Valencia in 2018 after a loan for €40m, was sold to Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Premier League for €32m in 2022. He is currently back at Benfica on loan. Authorities are looking at the PSG to Valencia sale in particular, as Benfica netted about €1.5m in sell-on fees, possibly fraudulently(?), and also there are suggestions on whether Guedes paid the appropriate taxes on any signing bonuses he may have received.

As you might have guessed when Wolves (and Mourinho) are tangentially involved, superagent Jorge Mendes is likely also going to be involved as part of this investigation; Guedes and Mourinho are both Gestifute clients and Mendes is pretty heavily connected with both Wolves and Benfica.

Pinto is of interest to Tottenham because of his (admittedly quite good) work in identifying and acquiring undervalued talent for the clubs under his charge, and for his proven record of turning over football squads in a short period of time. Roma has steadily improved under Mourinho the past few years, and Pinto was involved in bringing in players like Zeki Celik and Tammy Abraham.

He did similar work while at Benfica, and was in his role and likely heavily involved in the transfers of all three of the investigated transfers — Vlachidimos, Guedes, and Chiquinho. That obviously doesn’t mean that he’s guilty of anything, or even involved necessarily, but it is pretty concerning circumstantial evidence. In short, the whole thing smells, but nobody has said — yet — that any specific individuals are under investigation — just the three aforementioned transfers.

And of course, it’s now been just two months since Tottenham were forced to part ways with Fabio Paratici after he was embroiled, and eventually sanctioned, for financial malfeasance by a football regulatory body while he was at Juventus. It’s a particularly bad look that now Spurs are taking a serious look at another Director of Football who worked at a club currently being investigated for financial malfeasance. I don’t know whether Tottenham had any inkling that Pinto was potentially involved in Benfica’s possible financial malfeasance before this news dropped today; if they did not then this is “merely” grimly hilarious, and if they did then it’s even worse.

We should absolutely be extremely careful when talking about this right now. At present there are no indications that Pinto is connected in any way to the investigations. His name has not been listed in any of the initial reporting about the transfers, and it’s within the realm of possibility that that he had nothing to do with any of it. But holy moly — Spurs literally just went through the exact same situation, knowingly, with Paratici. Surely they wouldn’t be so stupid to walk into this particular buzzsaw, again.

Or to put it more succinctly, if there’s a single whiff that Pinto is in any way implicated or involved in what’s happening at Benfica at the moment, Tottenham need to run the hell away from him, pronto. With everything else going on, that would be an own goal that Spurs simply do not need.