In honor of International Anti-Corruption Day 2018 on December 9th, Maya Efrati, Policy Counsel for the National Whistleblower Center looks back at the past year to review the significant efforts made on behalf of whistleblowers around the world.
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The National Whistleblower Center (NWC), the nation’s top whistleblower advocacy group, has led the fight for whistleblower protections and rewards for over 30 years. This past year, the NWC frequently worked with anti-corruption activists and dedicated governments officials worldwide to help build effective anti-corruption programs as part of its outreach to international whistleblowers. The NWC understands that anti-corruption work can be most effective only when it is a unified global approach, as reflected in this year’s theme for International Anti-Corruption Day: “United Against Corruption”.
The National Whistleblower Center’s programs reached far and wide to promote importance of whistleblowers in anti-corruption efforts around the world. As part of NWC’s Global Wildlife Whistleblower Program, in January 2018 Executive Director Stephen M. Kohn traveled to Kenya to teach a workshop on wildlife whistleblowing to attendees from Kenya and Tanzania who work directly on wildlife trafficking and with potential whistleblowers in effected stakeholder communities. Stephen Kohn discussed how U.S. whistleblower laws can be used to fight corruption on a global scale, including wildlife trafficking. With a looming extinction crisis, the world needs fast answers that are known to work. Whistleblower rewards have been proven successful over decades of experience in halting corruption, fraud, and other crime, on a wide variety of issues. Wildlife trafficking relies on corruption to function; it is time to utilize whistleblower reward laws against wildlife trafficking, too.
“Money is an instrumental element to oiling the cogs of the wildlife trade, and illicit transactions leave a paper trail,” NWC Wildlife Managing Director Scott A. Hajost wrote in the Whistleblower Protection Blog.
Some of the NWC’s outreach to countries around the world also happens right here in Washington, D.C. The NWC hosts groups of international visitors who are legislators and government officials, members of civil society, and lawyers and members of the judiciary, to teach lessons-learned from U.S. whistleblower laws and to help strengthen democratic institutions in their own countries. Whistleblower reward laws tackle corruption problems by bringing to the light evidence which would otherwise remain hidden. These visits are facilitated by the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), an initiative of the U.S. Department of State. In the past year, Stephen Kohn, NWC President Michael D. Kohn, General Counsel David Colapinto and I, hosted groups from the countries of Armenia and Georgia, as well as regional groups from South Asian and Latin American countries. The distinguished visitors learn directly from the decades of experience of the National Whistleblower Center in fighting for whistleblowers.
The NWC also advocates for individual whistleblowers around the world who have blown the whistle on significant instances of corruption and are particularly at risk for retaliation. The NWC uses litigation and support campaigns to urge their governments – as well as the U.S. government – to investigate and reward their brave actions. One region of particular concern in the past year has been Europe. In February 2018, the NWC launched a campaign to advocate for Valery Atanasov, who was subjected to severe retaliation after blowing the whistle in Malta. Mr. Atanasov identified severe regulatory deficiencies in the Malta Gaming Authority, which allowed for money laundering and other criminal practices in the legal gambling industry. NWC’s Stephen Kohn and I wrote to the Group of States Against Corruption (“GRECO”), of which Malta is a signatory and which would have jurisdiction in this case, insisting that GRECO and other appropriate authorities, including the Prime Minister of Malta and the Council of Europe, step in and halt the ongoing retaliation by the government of Malta against Mr. Atanasov. “We believe that the facts of this case raise serious questions as to whether or not whistleblowers are being properly protected”, wrote Stephen Kohn in his letter to GRECO. While Mr. Valery continues to fight for compensation for the retaliation he suffered as a result of the information he brought to light, NWC’s advocacy in his case resulted in wide publicity and acknowledgement of his status as a whistleblower – a key first step.
Unfortunately, the threat of retaliation for whistleblowers in Europe has not yet been stopped. The NWC has been on the front lines of pushing governments around the world to investigate the enormous Danske Bank corruption and money laundering scheme. A British employee at the Estonian branch of the Danish Danske Bank noticed a scheme, worth hundreds of billions of dollars, in which money from Russia and other countries was laundered the bank and then routed to major Western world capitals, including London and New York. The whistleblower raised the alarm internally, but was ignored. Recently, his identity as Mr. Howard Wilkinson was leaked in an article which cited employees of Dansk Bank as sources, a clear retaliatory step and a violation of Mr. Wilkinson’s human rights.
While Wilkinson and Stephen Kohn testified before both the Danish and EU Parliaments, Wilkinson, was warned by Danske Bank that while it released him from the terms of his restrictive non-disclosure agreement, he could still face criminal or civil prosecution for speaking on the money laundering issues under bank secrecy laws. Stephen Kohn explained to international media that “the threat of a lawsuit has a chilling effect”. Members of the Danish government have pledged to address the issue of Mr. Wilkinson’s vulnerability to retaliation as the governments of Denmark, as well as others including the U.S., continue to investigate the money laundering scandal that he exposed.
But the NWC’s work to improve the position of whistleblowers in Europe continues. In June, the NWC published a report on the misleading position taken by the Bank of England which has continued to stymie whistleblower incentives in Europe. The NWC, in collaboration with the European Center for Whistleblower Rights, called for the report to be immediately rescinded. “The Bank of England has done a great disservice to the citizens of the U.K. Their report on whistleblower incentive laws is deceptive and has been used to support whistleblower policies that fail to effectively protect whistleblowers.” – Stephen Kohn.
At the same time, NWC is working to improve the proposed European-wide whistleblower directive by the European Union. As it stands, the whistleblower directive in front of the European Parliament contains serious deficiencies which will impede direct reporting to law enforcement agencies and not incentivize whistleblowers to come forward. The NWC issued a letter to the European Parliament members and other legislative bodies effected by this directive, urging that the necessary improvements be made immediately. “The EU needs to incorporate the highly effective qui tam and reward laws that have been remarkably effective in combating fraud into its Whistleblower Directive.” – Stephen Kohn stated to the European Parliament in his testimony.
This past week, as part of the NWC’s commemoration of International Anti-Corruption Day 2018, Stephen Kohn presented the keynote address at the International Annual Conference on Integrity, December 6 in Lima, Peru. He discussed the issues of fraud in public contracts, governmental and corporate responsibility in his address.
The NWC is honored to participate in Korea’s first ever Whistleblower Day celebrations. On December 9th,at an event hosted by the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission (ACRC) of Korea, the importance of whistleblowers in anti-corruption efforts will be highlighted. NWC President Michael D. Kohn, who participated in the APEC Anti-Corruption and Transparency Symposium in 2009, was asked to address the Whistleblower Day attendees in Korea via video. Michael Kohn’s video message will be shared with the Korean people and participants in a weeklong celebration. The link will be made available once the video has been made public.
The NWC knows that the work is not yet done. Too many whistleblowers are still subject to retaliation for stepping forward with vital information, and too many countries have not yet incentivized whistleblowers and protected them adequately. The outreach and advocacy efforts of the National Whistleblower Center to apply the positive lessons learned from U.S. whistleblower laws, and utilize them to protect whistleblowers around the world, are only just begun. Corruption is an insidious problem that cannot be stopped by a single country or by only wealthy countries. Instead, a unified international approach is required if we wish to have a long-lasting and significant impact and truly bring to an end global corruption. Reflecting this approach, the theme for International Anti-Corruption Day this year is “United Against Corruption”. It is time for every single country to protect whistleblowers by incentivizing the reporting of high-quality information to appropriate legal authorities – and honoring and rewarding them for their bravery.
About National Whistleblower Center
Founded in 1988, the National Whistleblower Center (NWC) is a U.S.-based non-profit, non-partisan legal advocacy organization that fights to strengthen whistleblower rights and protections in the U.S. and around the world. The NWC often works with anti-corruption activist and dedicated governments officials worldwide to help build effective anti-corruption programs as part of its global outreach to international whistleblowers. Through its International Anti-Corruption work, the NWC has conducted educational seminars and trainings with anti-corruption activist and government leaders from many countries including, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Czech Republic, Poland, Israel, South Korea, Egypt, India, Japan, Indonesia, Kuwait, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Yemen and more.
More information can be found at www.whistleblowers.org