LuxLeaks: European whistleblowers need comprehensive protection

It was an impressive sight: 200 protesters chanting “Merci Antoine” in the court of Luxembourg’s Judiciary City in support of LuxLeaks Whistleblower Antoine Deltour. In a spectacular appeals trial, the French former employee of Pricewaterhouse Coopers, along with ex-colleague Raphael Halet, is facing criminal charges for leaking information documenting systematic tax evasion of multinational companies in the state of Luxembourg. Change of Direction partner Blueprint for Free Speech was at the public protest event lending support and voice to the whistleblowers.

The two whistleblowers had appealed against a verdict reached in May 2016, giving Deltour a 12-month suspended jail sentence a fine of €1,500. The whistleblowers’ appeal resulted in an unusual reaction from the side of Luxembourg’s state prosecutor: He, too, appealed the verdict, putting not only Deltour and Halet back on trial but also journalist Edouard Perrin, who had helped leak the documents.

Something is going a very wrong way in the state of Luxembourg

On December 12, the opening date of the appeals tribunal, activists and supporters of different civil society organizations rallied in Luxembourg to protest the trial. The case illustrates several shortcomings on democratic leadership sanctioned by the state of Luxembourg: From questionable tax evasion schemes, via infringements of freedom of the press to an overall lack of transparency and accountability.

But first and foremost, it emphasizes the important role played by whistleblowers in the establishment of an open and equal society. Without the brave actions of Deltour and Halet, European citizens would remain uninformed about financial schemes costing the European Union billions of Euros in income tax of multinational companies every year.

Punishment, not praise  

Particularly paradoxical: Luxembourg has a whistleblower protection law. Due to a clause in the legislation allowing only the reporting of “illegal” procedures, however, Deltour and Halet are not protected by the law. Instead, they are facing fines as well as potential jail sentences. This emphasizes once more the need for a comprehensive directive on whistleblower protection on the European level. The same demand came from whistleblowers Brigitte Heinisch, Ana Garrido, Jonathan Sugarman and Andras Horvath, who joined the protests in a gesture of solidarity.

European Greens unite with civil society

Fortunately, some voices within the European Union are already actively calling for such an initiative: The European Greens have presented a draft directive that would, if passed, set out European guidelines on how to effectively protect whistleblowers. The Committee of Legal Affairs, too, is working on the issue. Efforts are now focusing on putting pressure on the European Commission – which so far has been more than reluctant in acknowledging the need for whistleblower protection in Europe.

For Deltour and Halet, however, this will come too late – a final verdict is expected to be delivered by March 15.