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The Whistleblower Jailed for Revealing the Misuse of Public Money


In the mid-2010s, an official at a trade union in a European country became suspicious about the misuse of funds that had been designated to support unemployed people. He downloaded files from the organisation’s systems and, after being laid off, revealed the information to the national press, leading to a major investigation. 

However, far from being lauded by the union for bringing misconduct to light, the organisation brought a criminal lawsuit against him, citing a breach of workplace confidentiality. A judge sentenced him to two years in prison, launching a debate over the implementation with regards to whistleblower protection of the EU Whistleblowing Directive, which had been enacted union-wide but had yet to be transposed into the country’s national law.  

As this is such an area of focus for European lawmakers, it is essential that businesses comply with the necessary laws in order to avoid legal sanctions.  

But there are many more reasons to work to eradicate discrimination at work too. This article explores what counts as discrimination, why organisations should strive for a discrimination-free workplace and how to succeed in this aim. 

The background

Whilst working for the union, the whistleblower came to believe that funds within the organisation that had been earmarked for helping the unemployed were, in fact, being diverted to pay for events such as feasts for union officials.  

He decided to collect evidence and downloaded thousands of files from the union’s computer systems. Soon after being made redundant, the whistleblower leaked the files to the nation’s press. He did so anonymously. However, the union launched an investigation and discovered his identity, issuing criminal proceedings against him.


What happened next

The revelations caused outrage in the country, as citizens read the details of what amounted to potential corruption within the union. Even though he declared that he leaked the documents in the public interest and cited the at-the-time forthcoming EU Whistleblowing Directive and its endeavours to protect whistleblowers, the judge ruled that he should have made his report through internal channels or authorised external bodies before making a public declaration.  

Whistleblower support groups claim this constitutes a misunderstanding of the directive. Indeed, the legislation encourages reporting persons to make their complaint internally in the first instance or to talk to one of the designated external counsels, but there are also situations in which whistleblowers can make a public disclosure and continue to benefit from the protections of the directive.  

These are: 

  • When they have tried internal and external channels but are not satisfied with the outcomes 
  • When they believe there is urgent danger to the public interest 
  • When they believe they will face retaliation from reporting in another manner 
  • When they believe there is a chance the wrongdoing will not be properly addressed if they report internally or externally.  

As such, the whistleblower could have had a case to suggest he made an acceptable choice and that the organisation’s lawsuit was tantamount to retaliation, which is prohibited by the directive and the various national laws created in order to implement it.  

In reality, however, the judge sentenced him to two years in prison for violating employment confidentiality laws.

What could have happened differently?

This anonymised case tested the scope of the EU Whistleblowing Directive before it had been transposed into national law across the European Union. At that time, the details of what was expected of whistleblowers and companies were not as clear as they now are.  

If the whistleblower genuinely believed his only safe option was to make a public disclosure, he should still have been afforded protection from retaliation. This would also raise questions about the culture within the trade union. Fostering a speak-up culture encourages employees to report wrongdoing and prevent it becoming established. This means that it is less likely there will be a major revelation that damages the reputation of the organisation.  

How IntegrityLog helps

Using whistleblower software, like IntegrityLog, as your internal reporting channel allows for confidential and anonymous reporting in a GDPR-compliant environment. It is easy for investigating teams to contact the whistleblower to build a better understanding of the complaint and keep them on target with deadlines, too.  

Try IntegrityLog today. 

References and further reading

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