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ICIJ condemns conviction of LuxLeaks whistleblowers

Two whistleblowers have been handed suspended prison sentences and fined, but have already announced their plans to appeal.

Two whistleblowers have been handed suspended prison sentences and fined by a court in Luxembourg for their part in leaking the secret files that led to the Luxembourg Leaks investigation and helped reveal widespread aggressive tax avoidance by some of the world’s largest multinational corporations.

Antoine Deltour and Raphael Halet, both French nationals and former employees of PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Luxembourg office, were sentenced to 12 and nine months suspended jail-time respectively at a hearing in Luxembourg on Wednesday. Deltour was fined 1500 euros, and Halet 1000 euros, and both men were ordered to make a symbolic 1 euro payment for damages to PwC.

Both Deltour and Halet are reportedly set to appeal the decision.

Journalist and ICIJ member Edouard Perrin, who had been the first to report on the leaked documents, was acquitted of all charges.

ICIJ director Gerard Ryle said the conviction of the whistleblowers was disappointing and set a dangerous precedent, particularly given the clear public interest in the information that was leaked.

“This is a trial that should not have happened in the first place. Antoine, Raphael and Edouard should all have been applauded and thanked for their roles in bringing the issue of corporate tax avoidance to the public’s attention, not dragged through the courts and punished,” Ryle said.

“Without the courage of the whistleblowers and the dedication of the journalists who worked on the documents, Europe would not have seen the important debates and tax policy advancements of the past 18 months. This information was clearly in the public interest, and has been of enormous benefit to the citizens of Europe.

“While it is heartening to see that Luxembourg has chosen not to criminalize journalism, I am deeply concerned that the conviction of these whistleblowers could have a damaging long term effect on press freedom and on transparency – both of which are pillars of democracy. 

“Whistleblowers and sources should be protected so they can continue to help journalists uncover information that would otherwise be swept under the rug.”

Deltour warned in a statement that his conviction could discourage future whistleblowers. 

“Sentencing the citizens at the origin of LuxLeaks revelations is equivalent to sentencing the regulatory advancements which have been triggered by these revelations and which have been widely acclaimed across Europe,” he said.

A number of advocacy groups were also quick to condemn the conviction and sentencing. Transparency International warned that the conviction “hurts the fight against corruption” and called for better whistleblower protection.

“This ruling raises serious doubts whether Luxembourg’s law protects whistleblowers. We will increase our advocacy efforts in this regard,” managing director Cobus de Swardt said. 

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