| Antoine Deltour and Raphaël Halet are a new joint entry this year|
Antoine Deltour and Raphaël Halet are new entries to this year's Global Tax 50 for their involvement in the infamous tax scandal, the LuxLeaks, which has been influential in political dialogue to tackle tax avoidance, improve transparency and protect whistleblowers.
Deltour and Raphael, both former PwC employees in Luxembourg, exposed secret tax rulings between multinational enterprises and the Luxembourg government that allowed the companies to pay very little tax. French journalist Edouard Perrin helped publicise the documents that Deltour and Raphael took from their former employers. The issue led to a court case between the whistleblowers, the Luxembourg government and PwC.
On June 29 2016, the trial came to a monumental end, when Luxembourg's Cite Judiciaire found both whistleblowers guilty of theft, violating trade secrets and secrecy laws. The judgment was immediately appealed by both parties, and reconvened on December 12, with further hearings on December 19 and 20.
Deltour and Halet spoke to International Tax Review about the trial and the fight for equality in international taxation.
During his two-year career as a financial auditor at PwC in Luxembourg, Deltour came across hundreds of tax rulings that were, as he described, of "low-substance". In a computer folder marked "Advance Tax Agreements", he uncovered sweetheart tax deals that were an "issue". Acting on instinct, Deltour copied the folder and began his own investigation into the documents. Not long after, he was approached by French journalist Edouard Perrin, who leaked the story to the media and public. For Halet, a former personal assistant in the tax policy services group at PwC, the media coverage helped inform public opinion about tax avoidance schemes in Europe.
The revelations have put pressure on politicians, the European Commission, members of parliament and governments to make changes to tax policy, although Halet said it is "not enough". Initiatives like the automatic exchange of tax information have been successfully implemented as a direct result of the LuxLeaks scandal, Deltour said, adding that he is proud that the LuxLeaks have helped to achieve greater tax transparency and tackle corporate tax avoidance.
However, the fight is not yet over for whistleblowers. There is still an urgent need for further whistleblower protections. Recommendations were issued by the European Commission on September 9 for further action, which have been submitted to the European Parliament. These recommendation call for precautionary measures and actions to protect the EU's financial interests on the protection of whistleblowers. In addition, the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) published guidelines on processing personal information within a whistleblowing procedure. The guidelines were put together to comply with the Data Protection Regulation and include recommendations for the further protection of whistleblowers.
Halet stressed that the European Commission needs to adopt a directive that would create a pan-European fund to support whistleblowers and a European early warning agency. In the meantime, Deltour advised pending whistleblowers to get as much advice from attorneys and NGOs before exposing confidential information. He recommended remaining as an anonymous source, such as a John Doe.
For Deltour, if he had the chance to do anything differently, he said he regretted that the names of the companies and governments were mentioned while the issue was systemic and international. However, he does not regret publicising the scandal. Halet echoed Deltour's sentiment and added that the information revealed from the LuxLeaks "has allowed us to move forward" with strengthening tax policy. Halet's message to whistleblowers is: "When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty".
International tax awareness has been heightened throughout 2016, with public interest and understanding in tax matters becoming mainstream in the media. Unlike the US, the EU provides weak protection for whistleblowers and does not have a financial reward mechanism in place. In two tax dispute cases, the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) granted the whistleblowers award payments under the IRS whistleblower informant programme. Other jurisdictions hungry for revenues may be wise to look at the benefits of a whistleblower programme, particularly given the influence of technology in making whistleblowing 'easier'.
Although there is a long way to go until there is equality in the international tax landscape, Halet reminds us to "never give up".
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