A court in Luxembourg has been condemned after it found former PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) employees Antoine Deltour and Raphaël Halet guilty of theft and breaches of confidentiality after leaking secretive tax documents that triggered ‘LuxLeak’s.
The two whistleblowers were given 12 and nine-month suspended sentences respectively on Wednesday.
Deltour was fined €1,500 after also being found guilty on charges including theft and violating Luxembourg’s strict professional secrecy laws. In 2014, Deltour won widespread praise for helping bring to light hundreds of controversial tax deals granted in previous years by the Luxembourg tax office.
The revelations, known as LuxLeaks, helped lay bare the tax arrangements of companies including Burberry, Pepsi, Ikea, Heinz, Shire Pharmaceuticals and others.
Reaction the sentence was swift, with Fabio De Masi, GUE/NGL group coordinator in the LuxLeaks committee in the European Parliament, described the verdict as a “travesty.”
Speaking on Thursday, he said, “It is absolutely outrageous that those who risked their jobs and future for the public good are being convicted whilst tax fraudsters go free with mister tax haven architect himself, Jean-Claude Juncker, heading the European Commission.”
“Our group has already requested a plenary debate over the issue of protecting whistleblowers in the upcoming Strasbourg session,” De Masi said.
“This is a particularly harsh verdict in spite of the symbolic fines – much lower than what the prosecutors had requested. It goes entirely against common sense. Instead of investigating the wrongdoings of its own administration which has acted as a self-service restaurant for the ‘big four’ and large corporations, Luxembourg has gone after those who sought to bring the truth to light.”
“The protection of whistleblowers in Europe is absolutely ridiculous and grossly insufficient. Even Juncker admitted improvements were needed when he was questioned by the LuxLeaks committee,” the German MEP said.
“But the Commission is not doing anything about it – you only have to look at their response to our written question. And Luxembourg is supposed to have one of the strongest national laws on the matter in the EU.”
“This is a shameful day for the EU and its empty promise on tax justice,” De Masi said.
But Luxembourg’s finance minister, Pierre Gramegna, described the leak as “the worst attack” his country had ever experienced.
During Deltour’s trial, prosecutors claimed the former PwC employee was an “anti-capitalist” and requested he be sentenced to 18 months in prison – though they later indicated they would accept a suspended sentence.
Outside court, Deltour’s supporters immediately indicated he would appeal. In a statement, the whistleblower said his sentence ignored the public interest. It was, he said, “detrimental to citizens’ information and the good functioning of the democracy.”
His supporters include grassroots activists, dozens of whom protested daily outside the court during his trial, as well as many senior tax reformers and politicians.