The former PwC employee turned whistleblower behind the LuxLeaks scandal that implicated Luxembourg in industrial tax avoidance went on trial in the tiny European duchy on Tuesday.
Antoine Deltour, 30, a former auditor at global accounting firm PwC, is accused of stealing documents from his employer before he quit the company in 2010.
These included some 28,000 pages, detailing tax agreements between 340 companies and theLuxembourg government that allowed them to avoid billions of dollars in taxes.
The documents eventually found their way to French journalist Edouard Perrin who broke the story in 2012 in the “Cash Investigation” programme on state-owned France 2 television.
Two years later, the documents found their way to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which revealed the full extent of the industrial-scale tax breaks won by these companies.
Edouard Perrin is also on trial, as well as another former PwC employee, Raphäel Halet, who is accused of being behind a separate leak.
The criminal trial in Luxembourg is expected to last until May 4. PwC has also launched civil proceedings.
Deltour’s leak was the biggest of its kind until the Panama Papers scandal in 2016, which exposed links between a number of corporations and international leaders and offshore shell companies that are sometimes used to launder illegal cash.
According to Deltour, before he left PwC in 2010, he searched for training documents to take with him in preparation for finding a new job.
“It was while I was searching for these files that I came across a folder, which was easily accessible by anyone in the company, which contained hundreds of tax rulings, which I copied,” Deltour said in an interview with French daily Le Monde, published on Monday, adding that he was “horrified” to discover that these tax ruling allowed multinationals to reduce their tax bills to as little as one percent.
Deltour, who has kept a low profile and is now working as a civil servant in Nancy in the Lorraine region of eastern France, subsequently contacted journalist and co-defendant Edouard Perrin in 2012.
Deltour asked that the journalist withhold PwC’s name in his exposé, and not to publish any of the document.
However, “Cash Investigation” went ahead and published the details, which were eventually passed on to the New York-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (which in 2016 would investigate and publish finding on the Panama Papers leak).
Arrested for theft
Following the “Cash Investigation” broadcast, PwC launched an internal investigation and discovered that it was Deltour who had taken the documents.
Deltour was charged in Luxembourg in December 2014 for theft, violation of professional secrecy and wrongfully accessing a database. He faces between five and ten years in prison.
French Police arrested and questioned Deltour at the end of 2014, and it was only then that he revealed to his family that he was behind the leaks.
The leaks had profound implications, eventually forcing the EU to take steps to prevent global firms such as Apple, McDonald’s and Amazon from avoiding taxes in Europe.
Deltour’s actions were widely praised, and he was even awarded the European Citizen’s Prize by the European Parliament.
Not that this recognition has pushed the French government to protect him from prosecution, although he told Le Monde, which described Deltour as “timid yet determined”, that he “understood the diplomatic reasons” for the French state’s caution.
He has however collected more than 115,000 signatures of support following newspaper campaigns to recognise him as a whistleblower rather than a thief, as well as some €20,000 in donations towards his legal fees.
“I know that there will be consequences,” he told Le Monde, stoically accepting Luxembourg’s determination to punish him. “But there is still much to be done to stop these damaging tax dodges.”
Investigative journalist Paul Moriera told FRANCE 24 on Tuesday that Deltour deserved the recognition and protection of society, rather than a stiff fine and a possible prison sentence.
“Whistleblowers are almost the only tool societies have against the superpower of corporations,” he told FRANCE 24. “It is very dangerous and almost every whistleblower’s life has been changed forever. We need a law to protect them.”