Howard Wilkinson, the whistleblower who reported the largest money laundering operation ever uncovered, has been nominated for the Allard Prize, a prestigious human rights and anti-corruption award. The Allard Prize is given annually to an individual or organization that “has demonstrated exceptional leadership and courage in the protection of human rights, while upholding the Rule of Law, promoting transparency and/or preventing or combating corruption,” according to the prize website. The other nominees for the Prize are The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, an organization responsible for rooting out criminal organizations within the Guatemalan government, and Daphne Caruana Galizia, a Maltese journalist who was murdered while investigating corruption in high ranks of the Maltese government.
Wilkinson noticed suspicious activity in Danske Bank’s records in 2013 while working as the head of the bank’s Baltic trading unit. When he investigated further, he found a $234 billion laundering scheme. The money allegedly came from Russia and other post-Soviet countries to Estonia and then flowed to high-profile European and American banks. Wilkinson reported that many of the most profitable LLPs (Limited Liability Partnerships) at the Estonian branch of Danske Bank were fake and had identical addresses in the UK. Wilkinson did not want to be identified as a whistleblower and anonymously filed four internal reports between April 2013 and December 2014. Soon after filing the final report, Wilkinson left Danske Bank for ethical reasons. The bank required him to sign an unusually restrictive non-disclosure agreement before receiving his severance package.
In 2018, an independent law firm hired to review the conduct of Danske bank released a report that made the details of the alleged money laundering public. When it was revealed there was a whistleblower, Wilkinson’s identity was almost immediately leaked to an Estonian newspaper, and an internal probe was launched against him. Stephen M. Kohn, Wilkinson’s attorney, claims that the probe attempted to discredit and blackmail him.
Wilkinson’s experience highlighted the need for stronger whistleblower protections in Europe and the need to ban restrictive non-disclosure agreements that stop whistleblowers from talking to authorities. He testified in front of both the Danish and European Parliaments in support of these goals. At significant personal risk to himself and his career, Wilkinson personally exposed corruption and advocated for improving the global financial system in ways that will put a check on future money laundering in the banking industry.
The Allard Prize will be awarded virtually on October 21 at 3:00pm EST. Register here to watch the ceremony.