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20.06.2018

Being a whistleblower: 'I wouldn't do it again'

By Jane Whyatt

Blowing the whistle on wrongdoings at work can make you an international cult hero. Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning are world famous. Many Europeans also know Antoine Deltour. But Maria Bamieh has yet to become a household name. The fifty-nine year old is still fighting through the courts to defend her reputation. 

Maria Bamieh Maria Bamieh (photo: private)

At the beginning of the 2000s, after the Yugoslav Wars, Bamieh went to Kosovo as a high-powered British prosecutor to work on the United Nations and later the European Union’s Rule of Law missions. Her work involved investigating and prosecuting high level officials. Bamieh was seconded to the EULEX, as the EU Mission is known, from Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). When she suspected corruption and other irregularities within EULEX she reported it to her bosses. A couple of months later she lost her job in a re-structuring of the mission. That was six years ago. Bamieh has been fighting ever since.

In an exclusive interview with ECPMF, Maria Bamieh reveals the true cost of exposing corruption – her life savings, her job and her mental and physical health. Her lawyer is trying to get two of her British former colleagues from the Kosovo mission to give evidence in court. But they claim the UK has no jurisdiction over them because they work abroad. After a long and costly legal battle, a judge has now agreed that they are subject to British justice.

You have been crowdfunding to get enough money to pay for a further court case. Why is it necessary for you to ask online for funds ?

MB: There were two hearings in which my former employer tried to silence me with restricted reporting orders but I fought those and I won. Then there was the hearing on jurisdiction and those two British former colleagues. They describe themselves as 'citizens of the world’ even though they hold British passports  - even though they were both educated in England and one holds property in England - on the basis that they don’t pay British tax. Well, nobody pays British tax when they work abroad because they are wholly resident abroad.

The first tribunal  agreed with that. But I appealed and I won and it was important for me to win against these two because that way I get the evidence against EULEX into the hearing and what EULEX has done to me is not hidden. EULEX went nuts because they represent those two individuals and they’ve appealed to the Court of Appeal. I have had about eight hearings and I don’t know if you know how  expensive proceedings and lawyers are in London?

No, actually, how much has it cost you already?

Fifty thousand pounds of insurance and a hundred thousand pounds of money that I’ve begged and borrowed to pay for the proceedings as they go along. Probably about ninety thousand pounds now So that is about one hundred and forty thousand so far. But I’m at the end of it. To completely finish the whole proceedings I probably need about another twenty-five thousand pounds in total.

What kind of work are you able to do?

I’m working part time for a local High Street solicitor plus I have my pension which is six-hundred pounds per month. That is one-thousand six-hundred pounds a month which covers my basic expenses. Out of that I have to pay solicitors’ fees as well. I’ve cut back on everything. My daughter’s grown up. It’s just me and my cat and my dog, and I lead a very frugal life.

Given the situation you are now in, do you regret that you blew the whistle?

Very much so. People ask me if I would ever do it again, or whether I would advise them to do it, and I would say no, don’t do it – not unless you’ve got pots of money to be able to stand and fight for your rights. You cannot do it alone. And I did have substantial savings which was meant for my retirement which I’ve spent. It’s very, very hard. And I think of Snowden – he’s been exiled to Russia. If you look at the big American whistleblowers they’ve lost their jobs and been theatened with imprisonment. It’s not a prospect that I would really wish on my worst enemy. It was very distressing and I have sleepless nights wondering how I’m going to cope. 

Obviously you felt srongly at the time that it was the right thing to do. Why ?

It wasn’t even my decision at the end of  the day. I went to my contingent leader and he basically said 'Turn a blind eye, Maria'. But in my heart of hearts I believe he told me to turn a blind eye out of caring for me because he probably knew what the consequences were of not turning a blind eye. 

Then I went to my boss. She was from Denmark, a very honourable lady, and she said 'No Maria, you cannot turn a blind eye to this, because if something goes wrong later, you will be held responsible.' So then I had to suffer two years of actions against me by her and by EULEX, and eventually I got suspended and dismissed for something I hadn’t done.

What is your situation now?

I cannot get a job because they keep saying that I’m under investigation. You are seen as a troublemaker. No one wants to employ you.

 

How important, do you think, is the new EU Whistleblower Protection Directive?

I think it’s absolutely vital. There’s a lot going on in the EU and in the EU regions, not just in the EU institutions. And since I blew the whistle, two other people working in EULEX also blew the whistle. They can discredit all the whistleblowers a much as they like but  they cannot say there is nothing wrong within the organisation that needs to be addressed. 

Well you have your crowdfunding and ECPMF and other supporters..

My lawyers have been great and given me disounts when I just had no money. They have been a rock, And my daughter and my family have supported me although they don’t want me to risk losing my home, to take loans on my house. But my daughter said, 'Mum, do what you have to do. I understand'

When is the next hearing?

Because it’s the Court of Appeal it could be up to a year before the case is heard. So you see EULEX can afford to keep this running for as long as possible to avoid a hearing and to make me run out of funds. I’ve promised myself that if that worst case scenario came, even though I’m not very well I will not give up my hearing. I will stand up in court and fight the case myself. It’s very hard because you become emotional. But I will try.

I can cope with the physical side. It’s the mental side that gets you - the depression, the fact that you’re isolated and your reputation’s totally destroyed. You have been turned into a pariah. It’s horrible.

 


 

The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom has supported Maria Bamieh from its Legal Assistance fund in her court battles to prove that she was victimised for revealing it. ECPMF’S Legal Assistance Fund co-ordinator Flutura Kusari says: 

"The EULEX failed the whistleblower Maria Bamieh and has set a very dangerous precedent in Kosovo on how to behave with whistleblowers. Bamieh exposed publicly information in the public interest after such information was neglected inside the mission. Instead addressing the allegations, EULEX focused on a cover up and smear campaign against Bamieh. ECPMF has supported her and will continue to do so in the future.“

We have requested a comment on the case from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and from EULEX Head of Mission Alexandra Papadopoulou, and we are awaiting their answers.





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