Thursday

22nd Aug 2019

LuxLeaks trial re-opens debate on whistleblowers' protection

  • Whistleblower Antoine Deltour (r), receiving the European Citizen's Prize in the European Parliament in 2015. (Photo: European Parliament)

The third Luxleaks trial, which starts in Luxembourg on Thursday (23 November), has prompted fresh calls for better protection of whistleblowers.

Antoine Deltour, Raphael Halet, and Edouard Perrin will have their fresh appeal heard by the High Court of Luxembourg, after two previous 'guilty' sentences by Luxembourg courts in 2016 and then an appeal in 2017.

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Deltour and Halet's, both former employees of consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), are on trial for allegedly having leaked documents that showed how the company helped several multinationals to evade taxes in Luxembourg from 2002 to 2010.

Perrin, a French journalist, was the first to reveal the documents, which became the so-called 'LuxLeaks' in 2014.

In 2017, Deltour received a six-month suspended sentence and a €1,500 fine, while Halet received a €1,000 fine.

Charges included theft, disclosing confidential information and trade secrets, money laundering and fraud.

Perrin was originally acquitted twice.

If the new appeal fails, Deltour and Halet will bring their case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Following LuxLeaks' revelations, the European Commission and member states decided to take new measures against on tax avoidance and tax dumping.

But the trial raises again the issue of the protection of whistleblowers, especially after the murder in October of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was investigating political corruption in her country.

'Grotesque low point of justice'

Thursday's trial is a "grotesque low point of justice," Green MEP Sven Giegold said in statement, adding that the Luxembourg Court "criminalises civil courage."

"The whistleblowers deserve acquittal and protection for their commitment to the common good," he said in a statement.

Another Green MEP, Benedek Javor, added that "thanks to people" like Deltour and Halet, the public "was made aware of the many tax and fraud scandals to break in recent years".

He said that whistleblowers' actions have been a major factor in bringing "needed policy changes to tackle tax fraud, money laundering and corruption."

In May 2017, at a hearing of the parliament's committee investigation on the Panama Papers revelations, Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said that the EU executive was working on a proposal to better protect whistleblowers and "you will hear more about this in the months to come".

But the European Commission, which launched a public consultation in March, is still pondering whether rules to protect all whistleblowers at EU and national level are needed.

Justice commissioner Vera Jourova said on Monday that she will table a proposal "in the course of the spring".

She told reporters she did not know yet whether there will be "enough support from the member states" for an EU-wide legislation, or whether she would have to propose a "non-legislative measure such as a recommendation or some guideline" to get that support.

"I cannot tell you now what will be the way the Commission will do it," she said.

'We are working intensively'

She said however that her proposal will focus on the "most serious cases or fields where the protection of whistleblowers is of utmost importance," such as criminal justice, in order to fight "more efficiently against corruption, money laundering, serious crimes of financial nature."

"We will look into the possibilities to protect whistleblowers in these fields," she said. "We are working intensively on this."

The protection of whistleblowers currently depends on member states legislation and rules differ from one state to another.

The European Parliament has called several time on the Commission to take action.

On 24 October, MEPs voted a non-binding resolution drafted by centre-left MEP Virginie Roziere, calling for an EU framework for whistleblowers.

The proposal covers a very broad definition of whistleblowers and calls for a broad range of support.

Earlier initiatives in the Parliament's include an project for a draft directive by the Green group in May 2016, the recognition of the role of whistleblowers in the contex of LuxLeaks, and another call to the Commission to submit a "a legislative proposal in the public and in the private sector" by the end of 2013.

LuxLeaks whistleblowers sentenced again

PwC employees Antoine Deltour and Raphael Halet, who revealed how multinational companies dodged taxes through deals in Luxembourg, were given reduced sentences.

LuxLeaks forces discussion on EU-wide protections

LuxLeak whistleblower Antoine Deltour is urging justice ministers to help put in place rules to protect people across Europe who leak confidential information for the public good.

LuxLeaks whistleblower Deltour acquitted

The court confirmed a sentence of €1,000 fine for Deltour's fellow leaker Raphael Halet, raising pressure on the European Commission to come forward with proposals to protect whistleblowers.

Agenda

Whistleblowers, Syria and digital revolution This WEEK

The European Commission will present proposals to protect whistleblowers, combat fake news and organise the digital single market. The international community will gather in Brussels to discuss how to help Syrians in the current war and after.

Stalling on VAT reform costing billions, says Commission

German media outlet Correctiv, along with other newsrooms, have revealed how criminals annually cheat EU states out of billions in VAT fraud. The EU Commission says solutions exist - but member states refuse to budge on tax unanimity.

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