Thursday

13th May 2021

Monaco hunts oil-bribery whistleblower in EU

  • Jonathan Taylor: 'I couldn't have lived with myself if I hadn't spoken out' (Photo: Jonathan Taylor)

A whistleblower who exposed massive bribery at a Monaco-based oil firm is now being hunted in Europe, in a test of its extradition system.

Jonathan Taylor, back in 2013, revealed that his former employer, SBM Offshore, had routinely paid bribes to foreign governments, for instance in Angola, Brazil, and Equatorial Guinea.

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His evidence saw it pay hundreds of millions of dollars in fines worldwide and prompted government resignations in Brazil.

But for the past six weeks, Taylor, a British national who lives in the UK, has been stuck in Croatia pending his potential extradition to Monaco on spurious charges.

And his name appears to have been red-flagged in Europe's banking system.

Taylor's ordeal began when he landed in Croatia with his wife and three children for holidays on 30 July.

"They didn't even scan my passport at immigration control, they just looked at some notes they had on A4 paper that were ready and waiting for my arrival, and then they gently marched me off," he told EUobserver from Dubrovnik.

The 51-year old lawyer spent the night in "a state of shock" in a tiny cell with a drug dealer and two violent offenders, he said.

He was arrested, Croatia said, because Monaco had issued an alert via the international police agency, Interpol, on charges he had tried to extort money from his old employer.

And when a friend of his later tried to wire him the 120,000 kuna (€16,000) he needed for his bail via Swiss bank Credit Suisse, the bank blocked the payment with no explanation, Taylor said.

"I've got a lot of enemies," he said.

Monaco is not an EU country, but it is entitled to go after suspects in the EU under the European Convention on Extradition, a 1957 treaty.

The Croatian Supreme Court will now decide Taylor's fate after a lower court already opted to honour Monaco's request, but he appealed.

And neither he or his lawyer, Toby Cadman, believe he would get a fair trial in Monaco if he went there.

"It's very political - SBM Offshore is Monaco's largest private-sector employer and it has close ties to the state," Taylor said.

"It has major offices not 400 metres from the Monégasque prosecutor's office, but the prosecutor has never questioned a single one of its employees [over the bribery revelations]," he said.

"They're trying to discredit me and to show the world that Monaco doesn't put up with whistleblowers, that companies are 'safe' there," he added.

"There's no chance [of a fair trial in Monaco] because of the influence that SBM Offshore has," Cadman also told this website.

"They're trying to silence him [Taylor] and to discourage other whistleblowers and journalists from doing this type of thing," Cadman said.

Rogue principality?

For its part, Monaco's foreign ministry painted a rosier picture of the principality.

"There are no ties between Single Buoy Moorings [SBM Offshore] and the Monaco authorities," it said.

"The government is absolutely not committed in this matter [Taylor's indictment]," it added.

"This affair is a purely judicial matter ... and the government does not interfere. The [Monégasque] judge in charge, the juge d'instruction, runs this affair as he deems appropriate, following Monaco laws," it said.

The oil firm also washed its hands, saying: "SBM Offshore has not pursued legal action against Mr Taylor for several years".

And Credit Suisse declined to comment on the blocked bail money.

But for Taylor, Cadman, and the more than 25 NGOs which signed a recent appeal on Taylor's behalf, his case shows how easily states such as Monaco, and others, can exploit Interpol and international treaties to make their enemies lives a misery in the EU.

The case was "another example" of how the system "can be abused to target and intimidate critical journalists, whistleblowers, and public watchdogs," the NGOs said.

"Countries such as Turkey, Russia, Kazakhstan, and others have issued [Interpol] notices ... with little scrutiny or oversight," they said.

It remains to be seen how Croatia's Supreme Court will handle what the NGOs called Monaco's "vexatious legal actions".

The British foreign office told EUobserver: "We are supporting a British man and his family following his arrest and detention in Dubrovnik, and are in contact with the Croatian authorities".

And France, for one, already ignored Monaco's Interpol alert because Taylor visited France without being stopped there after the alert had gone out.

No regrets

Meanwhile, Taylor pointed to the irony that he had now spent more days in a jail cell due to his whistleblowing than any of the SBM Offshore executives who made the bribes.

He also fears he has lost his new job in the UK due to being held up in Dubrovnik.

But when asked by EUobserver if he regretted going against the oil barons, he said: "Absolutely not".

"I couldn't have lived with myself if I hadn't spoken out because it would have made me an accessory to the crime," he said.

And the crime did have victims, he noted.

Legitimate oil contracts could be used to pay for schools, hospitals, and sanitation in places like Angola, where one third of people lived in extreme poverty, Taylor said, but instead the bribes were "siphoned off by some of the richest people in Africa".

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