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17.11.2016

LuxLeaks: ECPMF provides financial support to court appeal by key whistleblower

by Ana Ribeiro

The ECPMF will support the case of French whistleblower Antoine Deltour with €1000, as he appeals his conviction by the Correctional Tribunal of Luxembourg. Deltour is one of three major figures who exposed irregular fiscal practices implicating Luxembourgish authorities, in what became known as LuxLeaks.

Antoine Deltour Antoine Deltour (photo: private)

Institutional support for the whistleblowers’ cause is growing. On 8 September, 108 Members of the European Parliament – active in pushing for the adoption of a directive to protect whistleblowers –  signed an open letter strongly disapproving of the LuxLeaks convictions.

"The judgment was one of the most severe I could expect", Deltour said via Skype during the ECPMF’s European Media Freedom Conference, in October 2016. Although he gets to avoid jail time – getting a fine instead – he finds the outcome could be distressing to other potential whistleblowers who will be afraid of exposure and punishment. 

The case

LuxLeaks involved leaking to the press 45,000 pages of confidential documents from multinational auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), where Deltour had been employed. He, former colleague Raphaël Halet and French journalist Edouard Perrin were central in exposing how 340 multinational companies conducted secret deals with the Luxembourgish fiscal authorities to avoid paying taxes.

The European Commission and Parliament have since moved to combat and officially make the practice of tax avoidance and abuse by corporations illegal. As a recognition for his efforts, Deltour was one of 47 people to win the EU Parliament’s European Citizen’s Prize in 2015. Perrin was one of 22 nominees for the 2016 RSF-TV5 Monde Press Freedom Prize, which went to Syrian and Chinese journalists in the end.

Despite this level of support, taking such a risk in LuxLeaks has come at a high price for the whistleblowers – which will be execerbated if the court appeal fails, and possibly discourage others from coming forward when detecting wrongdoing.

In June 2016, the Correctional Tribunal of Luxembourg sentenced Deltour to a suspended jail term of 12 months and paying a €1500 fine. Deltour and Halet were convicted on charges of "domestic theft", "fraudulent access to a database", "breach of professional secrecy", "violation of trade secrets", and "laundering and possession of illegally obtained material".

Deltour and Halet did not deny stealing the documents, but contended they obeyed moral principles in denouncing the practices, acting in the public's interest. In the meantime, Perrin, part of the team behind Premières Lignes' "Cash Investigation" project, was acquitted.

The LuxLeaks appeal trial will begin on 12 December, 2016, according to Support-Antoine.org, the website spearheading Deltour’s cause.

Origins and continuation

Deltour’s LuxLeaks journey started in August 2010. According to Support-Antoine.org, he had gone to copy some training documents while quitting his job at PwC, when he happened upon electronic records of the tax deals. Deltour copied such records as well and held on to them, until investigative journalist Perrin contacted him in summer 2011, and he decided to give the journalist the documents.

Deltour told Media Freedom Conference participants that Perrin had approached him after spotting some comments he had made on the Internet and finding him "well-informed". Deltour remained an anonymous source until Perrin’s "Cash Investigation" broadcast broke the story in 2012, with the company PwC filing a complaint shortly afterwards. He said the legal procedures encouraged him to go public, and that he was even arrested.

When asked if he would do it again, Deltour replied:

Yes, because it led to concrete consequences."

LuxLeaks picked up more steam two years later, when some 40 media organisations linked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) ran articles disclosing information from the fiscal documents. Such leaks exposed players from all over the world and were published internationally, including in the countries where people were found to have participated in the tax scheme. The response was swift and widespread, and countries' authorities promised to take action, besides the EU institutions.

In 2015, the members of the ICIJ would be the ones to break the global Panama Papers scandal. The leak, the largest ever to date, involves more than 11.5 million records exposing a corrupt system of offshore companies implicating powerful politicians from more than 50 countries, their relatives and close friends, and others. The whistleblower in this case has managed to be kept anonymous.


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Antoine Deltour’s supporters are collecting donations for the cause via Support-Antoine.org.





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