December 13, 2016

LuxLeaks Act II: RSF urges LuxLeaks appeal court to acquit whistleblowers and journalist

Edouard Perrin, Raphaël Halet and Antoine Deltour / AFP

The three LuxLeaks defendants who exposed Luxembourg’s massive system of tax avoidance for multinational corporations are on trial again in the Grand Duchy, where a court yesterday began hearing the appeal in a case that is drawing renewed attention to the issue of protection for whistleblowers.

Former PricewaterhouseCoopers employees Antoine Deltour and Raphaël Halet are seeking their acquittal on the grounds that they acted in the general interest. They received suspended jail sentences for leaking confidential documents at the original trial last June.

The third defendant, French journalist Edouard Perrin, was acquitted at the original trial but Luxembourg’s public prosecutor appealed against his acquittal and included him in the appeal in order not to “slice up the case,” he said.

At the heart of this case is the issue of the legal status of whistleblowers – those who leak documents in order to defend what they regard as the public interest. This was the defence that Deltour and Halet used at the trial and, in its verdict, the court recognized that the “defendants acted in the general interest and against morally doubtful tax optimization practices.”

But this did not suffice for them to avoid a guilty verdict because Luxembourg’s laws provide no protection for whistleblowing.

“The information revealed by the LuxLeaks case was of vital importance and was clearly in the public interest,” said Pauline Adès-Mével, the head of RSF’s Europe desk.

“The public has a right to be informed about the tax optimization procedures used by leading multinationals and the privileges that certain government grant them. The trade secrets directive adopted by the European Parliament on 14 April refers to article 11 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which protects journalists and their sources and the ‘freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority’.”

Luxembourg’s justice system should be guided by these principles and should lead the way for other European countries that still lack a legally defined status for whistleblowers.

Luxembourg is ranked 15th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.