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16.03.2017

LuxLeaks appeal: Fine upheld, suspended jail sentence reduced for key whistleblower   

by Ana Ribeiro

The Appeal Court of Luxembourg has halved the suspended jail sentence imposed in June 2016 on French whistleblower Antoine Deltour. The ECPMF supported Deltour’s appeal with €1,000, amid what became known as the LuxLeaks trial.

Antoine Deltour Antoine Deltour (photo: Eric Garault)

The court reduced Deltour’s suspended prison term from the 12 months to six months, but he still has to pay a €1,500 fine. Raphaël Halet, Deltour’s former colleague at multinational auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), saw his sentence limited to a €1,000 fine. The two had been involved in leaking to the press 45,000 pages of confidential documents from their employer.

Deltour and Halet were convicted of theft of documents belonging to their employer, of computer fraud and of holding illegally obtained documents in their possession. Both were cleared of the charge of trade secrets violation.

Halet was also convicted of violating professional confidentiality by leaking confidential documents to the media. On the other hand, Deltour was cleared of this charge thanks to his whistleblower status under the protection of the European Convention on Human Rights.

At the time of the acquisition of the documents by theft and computer crime, Deltour was (not yet) or was not acting (yet) with the intention as whistleblower. Therefore, the court of appeal was of the opinion that for these previous acts, Deltour was to be convicted.

Meanwhile, the court has upheld the acquittal of French journalist Edouard Perrin. Along with the two whistleblowers, he had been pivotal in “LuxLeaks” – exposing how 340 multinational companies conducted secret deals with the Luxembourgish fiscal authorities to evade taxes. The case had wide reverberations and preceded a string of other high-profile, whistleblower-propelled exposés.

Reaction to court verdict

Following the appeals ruling on 15 March, the website spearheading Deltour’s case issued a statement both welcoming and lamenting the outcome – and hinting that the whistleblower may consider pursuing another appeal. While “for the first time, a European national judge recognizes the legitimacy of violating… professional secrecy” on behalf of public interest, it “still presents a disturbing contradiction”, says Support-Antoine.org:   

It recognizes the whistleblower’s role… but anyhow concludes on a condemnation. Antoine Deltour was a whistleblower when he transmitted the documents to the journalist, but is convicted for their acquisition. Once again, private financial interests seem to take priority over the collective interest and the rights [to] information.”

Deltour had told the ECPMF that although he would not be required to serve jail time under the sentence – getting a fine instead – he found the punishment to be harsh and a potential deterrent to other whitleblowers. The partial failure of the court appeal could scare others out of coming forward when detecting wrongdoing, despite growing support at the EU legislative level for the whistleblowers' cause in light of LuxLeaks.

“This sentence is… far from the expected change of era in Europe regarding tax issues, whistleblowers’ protection and the right of information,” adds SupportAntoine.org.

Deltour is disappointed in the ruling and notes via the website the importance of going forward with “European initiatives towards whistleblowers’ protection”. He will appear on 24 March at the ECPMF conference “Promoting dialogue between the ECtHR and the media freedom community”.

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) calls the conviction of both Deltour and Halet “scandalous”, and urges the European Commission (EC) to implement a directive protecting those denouncing abuses and illegal activities in the public interest.

ECPMF member Dirk Voorhoof contributed to this report.


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