Charges against LuxLeaks reporter threaten press freedom

Edouard Perrin.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists strongly condemns the indictment of French journalist and ICIJ member Edouard Perrin by Luxembourg prosecutors over leaked documents that revealed widespread aggressive tax avoidance by some of the world’s largest companies.

Hundreds of documents leaked from inside PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Luxembourg office formed the basis of a 2012 report by Perrin, and a 2014 global investigation by ICIJ, which revealed how the tiny European duchy had effectively become a tax haven within the European Union, slashing tax bills by billions of dollars for multinational corporations through secret tax agreements.

Perrin appeared before a Luxembourg court on Thursday, where he was officially charged and “is suspected of being the co-author, if not an accomplice, in the infractions committed by a former PwC employee,” who was previously charged with taking the documents, according to a statement from the Luxembourg prosecutor.

ICIJ director Gerard Ryle said Perrin’s indictment was an affront to press freedom and public accountability in a jurisdiction that claims to be working to improve its transparency.

“Perrin’s reporting on Luxembourg’s secretive tax practices has been critical in triggering official European inquiries and opening significant, widespread debate about the fairness of tax policies,” Ryle said.

“The Luxembourg Leaks investigation, which Perrin played a key role in, revealed aggressive tax avoidance strategies that damaged national treasuries and hurt taxpayers at a time of austerity throughout the European Union. 

“For a founding member of the EU to bring charges against a journalist in relation to reporting that is clearly in the public interest shows a lack of respect for the important role journalism plays in holding the powerful accountable.”

Perrin accepted an invitation to become an ICIJ member in late March, after working with ICIJ on the Luxembourg Leaks investigation.

Reporters Without Borders expressed “shock” at Luxembourg's decision to press charges.

"Such judicial methods are unworthy of a country such as Luxembourg. The right to information is a pillar of democracy and should take precedence in a case like this," said program director Lucie Morillon in a statement.

Perrin is the third person and first journalist to be charged in relation to the leak, after French national and former PwC auditor Antoine Deltour was charged in December, and another unnamed former PwC employee was charged over the leak of a second set of documents in January.

The two former PwC employees have been charged on five counts of “domestic theft, violation of professional secrecy, violation of business secrets, laundering and fraudulent access to a system of automatic data treatment,” according to Bloomberg.

Bloomberg reports that Perrin’s charges relate to the second alleged leak, which allegedly included 16 corporate tax returns.

Deltour was charged over the alleged leak of hundreds of secret tax rulings – known as comfort letters – that detailed confidential tax arrangements between Luxembourg and multinational corporations.

The Luxembourg Leaks investigation was published in November and December last year, and immediately put pressure on newly-elected European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, who was prime minister of Luxembourg at the time many of the controversial tax agreements were made.

Juncker conceded the the investigation “weakened” him as he faced a vote over his leadership in the European Parliament, and Luxembourg’s Finance Minister Pierre Gramegna said the investigation was a “game-changer” for the tiny duchy, which agreed to hand over its secret tax rulings to European authorities.

The investigation was cited in an official European Commission report as paving the way for a "fundamental change" in Europe's tax rules in March, whereby all member states must now share details of tax agreements made with international corporations.

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