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Luxembourg trial an affront to journalism, whistleblowers

ICIJ strongly condemns the upcoming trial of an ICIJ member and two whistleblowers by Luxembourg prosecutors over leaked documents.

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

Perrin, French national and former PricewaterhouseCoopers auditor Antoine Deltour, and another unnamed former PwC employee, will appear before a Luxembourg court on Tuesday for the start of what is expected to be a six-day trial over the leak of confidential files from PwC’s Luxembourg office.

The hundreds of leaked documents formed the basis of 2012 and 2013 reports 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. The investigations are still cited in debates that continue to rage about corporate tax avoidance and transparency.

ICIJ director Gerard Ryle said Perrin’s indictment for simply doing his job as a journalist was an affront to press freedom and the charges against the others showed that Luxembourg was recklessly dismissive of the vital role whistleblowers play in ensuring transparency.

“Whistleblowers should be lauded, not condemned. Some of the biggest scandals revealed in recent times have depended entirely on brave people being willing to work with journalists to expose wrong-doing,” Ryle said.

“Perrin’s reporting triggered worldwide public outrage over the fairness of tax policies and it led to reform, most notably in the European Union. There was widespread public interest in the information that was revealed. 

“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. For a country to also charge two alleged whistleblowers shows Luxembourg has not yet caught up with public opinion.”

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. Perrin faces charges for alleged complicity in the violation of professional and business secrets and for laundering the information.

The ICIJ Luxembourg Leaks investigation was published in November and December 2014, and immediately put pressure on the then 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.

The investigation was cited in an official European Commission report as paving the way for a “fundamental change” in Europe’s tax rules, whereby all member states must now share details of tax agreements made with international corporations. Luxembourg’s own finance minister described the investigation as a “game changer,” after which Luxembourg ended its fight to keep tax rulings secret and out of reach of EU investigators.

In January, EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager, who has led recent investigations against the sort of aggressive tax avoidance and evasion schemes revealed by LuxLeaks, said she regretted Luxembourg’s decision to prosecute.

“LuxLeaks could not have happened if it was not for the whistleblower and the team of investigative journalists. The two worked very well together to change the momentum of the debate about corporate taxation in Europe,” Vestager said.

“I think everyone should thank both the whistleblower and the investigative journalists who put a lot of work into this.”

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