These past few weeks have been filled with important whistleblower news from all regions. Here is a rundown of some of the more significant cases, rulings and developments.
In the Courts
Rafael Halet, one of the two whistleblowers in the LuxLeaks tax evasion case, has lost his appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. In a topsy-turvy ruling that is puzzling legal experts and frustrating anti-corruption activists, the Court did not disagree that the former PricewaterhouseCoopers employee is a whistleblower. But judges ruled that Halet’s conviction in Luxembourg for theft and secrecy violations, and a €1,500 fine, represented “a fair balance” in protecting his freedom of expression and the rights of PricewaterhouseCoopers to censure and control its employees.
Vexingly, the Court of Human Rights called Halet’s criminal conviction and fine a “relatively mild penalty that would not have a real chilling effect” on free speech. Thus, the Court has legalized and legitimized whistleblower retaliation – including criminal prosecution, financial penalties and dismissal – as long as the reprisals are “mild.” The court did set a threshold for what non-mild retaliation would be.
Oil industry whistleblower Jonathan Taylor lost his bid to avoid being extradited from Croatia to Monaco on bribery and corruption charges. Taylor had been in legal limbo for 10 months since he was arrested while on a family vacation in Dubrovnik. Nine years ago he provided evidence of alleged bribery involving the Dutch oil firm SBM Offshore, which has a regional office in Monaco. Taylor himself was then accused of misconduct.
The conviction and prison sentence of Turkish scientist Bulent Şik has been overturned by a court in Istanbul. Şik had been sentenced to 15 months in prison for releasing confidential research showing a connection between heavy metals and pesticides, and high cancer rates in western Turkey. The court ruled that because the Health Ministry had commissioned the research, and that the information concerned public health, it could not be considered confidential.
The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority has announced a reward program for people who report the evasion of duties and other tax payments. People may receive monetary compensation if their reports lead to the recovery of public funds. The program dates to the Revenue Authority Act of 2001 but it was enhanced in last year.
Kenya’s financial regulator, the Capital Markets Authority, released a draft law on whistleblower rewards and opened the proposal for public comment. The National Whistleblower Center in Washington, D.C. provided input on the proposal and continues to track the measure.
Prominent activist Atik Mohammed has called on public officials in Ghana to establish a reward program for people who report illegal mining. He said the Whistleblower Act of 2006, which has produced few if any results, should be strengthened to motivate people to come forward with information. “You would have made it a collective fight and everybody would feel a part of it,” GhanaWeb quoted Mohammed as saying.
Public health worker Rebekah Jones, who was fired and arrested after alleging that misleading COVID-19 data was being released, has been granted whistleblower status in Florida. Jones, who ran the Florida Department of Health’s data dashboard, was arrested for allegedly tunneling into a message system and telling people to “speak up.” “It’s pretty huge,” Jones told The Miami Herald. “This isn’t vindication, but this is a start. It’s a big push forward.”
Famed Slovenian whistleblower Ivan Gale has reached a settlement with his former employer over this dismissal. Gale was fired last October after he revealed alleged irregularities with Slovenia’s purchase of personal protective equipment for the COVID-19 crisis. He reached the agreement with the Agency for Commodity Reserves, the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) reported. Details have yet to be released. In the meantime, Gale reportedly has helped establish the Center for Whistleblower Protection at the European Institute for Compliance and Ethics in Ljubljana.
Notoriously non-transparent when it comes to whistleblowing, officials in Bulgaria have made a rare release of information about the filing of corruption reports. A parliamentary committee that tracks financial violations committed by public officials and state-owned companies has submitted 22 reports of corruption and financial misconduct to the Prosecutor’s Office, according to the news portal Novinite. The reports included alleged wrongdoing at banks, and the preparation of an environmental risk assessment for a major natural gas pipeline.
Four years after the catastrophic Grenfell Tower fire killed 72 people in London, a specialty whistleblower service for engineers is inviting construction professionals to report fire safety hazards. Known as CROSS – or Collaborative Reporting for Safer Structures – the confidential platform allows people to share their concerns and experiences of fire and structural safety. “We want to promote a culture of change within industry,” said CROSS’ Alastair Soane, “one that supports and encourages individuals to come together and share responsibility for creating a safer built environment.”
The UK Financial Conduct Authority has nearly doubled its staff that handles whistleblower tips in an effort to attract and investigate more reports of crime and corruption, Bloomberg reported. This follows a 9 percent drop in the number of disclosures to the markets regulator in 2020. “We listen to all whistle-blowers and, if they shine a light on serious misconduct, we want to make sure we act responsibly,” said the FCA’s Mark Steward, adding that whistleblowing “helps consumers, markets and firms and keeps everyone safe and that is our aim.”
A member of Germany’s ruling Christian Democrat party has come out strongly against a comprehensive whistleblower protection law. Bundestag member Jan-Marco Luczak criticized a proposed law by Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht that goes beyond new EU rules in one aspect, yet generally is much weaker. Without any mention of citizens’ rights to report crime and corruption, Luczak said the measure would be burdensome for private businesses, the German news service DPA reported. “We know that many companies are fighting to survive in the current pandemic,” Luczak was quoted as saying. “If Ms. Lambrecht continues to adhere to an excessive regulation, it will be impossible to bring it into the cabinet.”
International Whistleblower Day was celebrated in Montenegro in April, with events including the presentation of the Whistleblower of the Year. The prize went to Ganija Jasavic, a former forestry official in the city of Plav who revealed that a timber concession was improperly approved cut the highest quality forest at a greatly discounted price. The local organization NGO 35mm also gave awards to Montenegro’s Ministry of the Interior, for its work on government transparency, and to the organization KOD, for its work promoting freedom of speech. International Whistleblower Day is an annual event organized by the Southeast Europe Coalition on Whistleblower Protection and sponsored by the US National Endowment for Democracy.