Status: 02/14/2023 4:32 pm
In the case surrounding corporate tax practices in Luxembourg, it is now clear that the whistleblower Halet was wrongly convicted. The European Court of Human Rights also ruled that the state of Luxembourg must compensate him.
By Gigi Deppe, ARD Legal Department.
This was an important procedure for the European Court of Human Rights: the Grand Chamber ruled, so a total of 17 judges were involved. Not everyone agreed, but a clear majority opted for the protection of whistleblower Raphael Halet. The Luxembourg courts wrongly convicted the man. Thus, he receives compensation from the State of Luxembourg in the amount of 15,000 euros and 40,000 euros in court costs.
Author Halet is happy after eleven years to finally get justice. “This is not about me, this is about our children, about other whistleblowers, about other citizens who can now use these arguments,” Halet said. After all the good and bad times he’s been through, others may use judgment in the future when it comes to convicting whistleblowers.
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Fine for violation of the interests of the employer
Until now, Halet had always lost in court. The former PricewaterhouseCoopers PwC employee was ordered to pay for having harmed his employer’s interests. He couldn’t claim that he had acted in the public interest because his information wasn’t that new. In fact, Halet was only the second whistleblower in publicizing the huge “Luxleaks” scandal.
First, another PwC employee, Antoine Deltour, passed copies of 45,000 pages of internal documents to a journalist. It was only when the press reported on this basis that the Luxembourg state, through PwC, was exempting international corporations from large-scale taxes, that Halet contacted the press with further documents. Unsurprisingly, Halet was condemned.
For Halet’s lawyer, this circumstance was a completely inadmissible argument: “It is up to the respective journalist to evaluate his sources. This is not a function of the source itself. You cannot blame the whistleblowers for that.”
Halet received a supposedly small fine of around 1,000 euros in Luxembourg. But punishment is punishment, according to his lawyer. This would also deter whistleblowers.
The “LuxLeaks” case
In the “LuxLeaks” scandal, confidential tax agreements between Luxembourg and 340 multinational corporations were made public. Among the companies that had the opportunity to avoid billions of dollars in taxes as a result of the deals were Amazon, Apple, Ikea, Pepsi, AIG and Verizon. The agreements were concluded under the then Prime Minister of Luxembourg and later President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker.
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Judges at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg see it the same way. They say that the public interest in discovering such events was significantly more important than the employer’s interest in not disclosing confidential information.
Either way, Halet contributed to a public debate. The Luxembourgish courts did not adequately assess the case. Even minor penalties would have a deterrent effect on anyone wanting to disclose something in the public interest.
Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights on a whistleblower
Gigi Deppe, SWR, February 14, 2023 at 4:51 pm