German MEP Sven Giegold has given a muted response to a Luxembourg court’s decision to deliver reduced sentences on appeal to two “Luxleaks” whistleblowers, Antoine Deltour and co-defendant Raphael Halet.
The pair were originally convicted of leaking thousands of documents from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) one of the largest accounting firms in the world, that revealed tax breaks for multinational firms.
Investigative journalist Edouard Perrin, who used the leaked information to produce reports for French television, was acquitted in June last year.
Deltour, the former employee of the auditing firm PwC, together with Halet and Perrin, are credited with exposing the so-called Luxleaks scandal.
It was the scandal about Luxembourg’s secret tax deals involving hundreds of companies that prompted the European Commission and member states to address tax evasion and avoidance.
Both Deltour and Halet appealed their convictions but, on Wednesday, Deltour was given a six-month suspended sentence and fined €1500 while Halet was fined €1000 and given a nine-month suspended sentence. Perrin was acquitted for the second time.
Both Deltour and Halet were convicted of theft of tax rulings and computer fraud. Both were cleared of the charge of trade secret violation.
The court, in a ruling, said it had recognised Deltour and Halet's whistleblower status but had noted that it did not protect them under national or European law.
On Thursday, Giegold, the financial and economic policy spokesperson of the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament, said, “The verdict confuses justice with injustice by reducing heroes to criminals.
“Whistleblowers that act in the public interest should be protected, not prosecuted. People acting for the common good must be able to rely on the protection of society. The Luxembourg court made an example of them which will contribute to silencing future whistleblowers.
“Ultimately, only European courts may be able to appeal against this verdict and bring justice to Deltour and Halet.”
He added, “the appeal decision shows once again the urgently we need an EU-wide protection for whistleblowers.
“The fate of people who make scandals public cannot be dependent on the legal situation in the individual EU member states. Whistleblowers do not belong in court. It is unacceptable that whistleblowers are prosecuted under criminal or civil law and are punished for their courage.
“We need EU-wide protection for whistleblowers. Scandals like Luxleaks or Panama Papers show how important it is to protect people who dare to publicize scandals that harm society.”
He added, “Once finished, the European Commission’s current consultation on a possible legislation to protect whistleblowers in Europe must be followed by action. According to today’s verdict, we expect a corresponding directive to protect those who make abuses public.“
The Luxleaks revelations came just after Jean-Claude Juncker, the former prime minister of the Grand Duchy who resigned during the time the tax rulings were developed, became president of the European Commission.
The extent of the revelations, after several years of financial and economic crisis, pushed the commission led by Juncker as well as member states to propose and adopt tighter rules on tax evasion and tax fraud.
MEPs have since called on the commission to come forward with EU wide legal protection for whistleblowers.