LuxLeaks whistleblower calm ahead of trial

Revelations exposed methods used by some of the world’s largest corporations to reduce tax bills
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For someone who is responsible for one of the biggest financial leaks in history and who now faces the prospect of jail, Antoine Deltour is remarkably calm.

The quietly spoken Frenchman, who faces trial in Luxembourg on Tuesday, merely admits that he is “quite worried” that he could be behind bars for up to 10 years for his part in sharing 28,000 pages of documents from auditor PwC.

The files blew apart the methods used by some of the world’s largest corporations — ranging from Ikea to Pepsi — to reduce their tax bills to as little as 1 or 2 per cent.

Since the so-called LuxLeaks revelations, Brussels has proposed legislation that will rein in some of the corporate world’s excesses. Other leaks, such as the Panama Papers, highlighted the sometimes nefarious means by which individuals masked their wealth offshore, triggering political ructions from London to Moscow to Reykjavík.

But this swing in public and political opinion has not affected Luxembourg’s justice system, which is determined to bring Mr Deltour and the two others alleged to be behind the leaks to trial.

Mr Deltour faces charges of theft, violating the Grand Duchy’s secrecy laws and illegally accessing a database. Also in the dock is another former PwC employee — who has not been named — and Edouard Perrin, the French journalist who first broke the story in 2012. They all face similar charges.

“It is classic tax haven behaviour,” said Nicholas Shaxson, the British author of Treasure Islands, an award-winning book on tax havens. “When malpractice is exposed you don’t go after the person who did it, you go after the person who exposed it.”

Mr Deltour has avoided the limelight sought by other whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden, who has amassed 2m Twitter followers while hiding from US authorities in Russia. The French accountant has been able to maintain his low-key existence as a civil servant in Nancy, a two-hour drive from Luxembourg.

“I try to have a normal life,” Mr Deltour said. Unlike other whistleblowers who have faced financial ruin, a popular campaign in support of Mr Deltour attracted more than 100,000 signatures and his legal fees being covered.

Mr Perrin — the French journalist who faces charges of “domestic theft, violation of professional secrecy, violation of business secrets, laundering and fraudulent access to a system of automatic data treatment” — has kept an even lower profile, spurning offers of a similar support campaign.

“That is the way Edouard is,” said Paul Moreira, the editor-in-chief of Premieres Lignes, whose Cash Investigation programme first aired the LuxLeaks allegations in 2012. Mr Perrin declined to comment for this article.

Although Cash Investigation regularly received legal threats from its subjects, the firm response from Luxembourg’s authorities stood out. “We were surprised it got this far,” Mr Moreira said.

So are many of those involved in Luxembourg’s financial sector, who simply want the case to go away. LuxLeaks sullied the grand duchy’s name and a stiff sentence for Mr Deltour or Mr Perrin, they worry, would simply bring more unwanted attention.

But there is not much sympathy for Mr Deltour elsewhere in the duchy. The tax decisions in Luxembourg were, after all, legal. As far as they are concerned, the only person who broke the rules was Mr Deltour.

Mr Deltour goes unrecognised when he returns to the often socially suffocating duchy. He says his relative anonymity is a blessing. “Part of public opinion is really angry against me. Lots of people want to see me in jail. They do not understand why I disclosed these practices.”

Understandably, his lawyers are keen to paint a broader picture. “He opened the eyes of millions of citizens,” said William Bourdon, a French lawyer who also represented Mr Snowden. “Antoine is a very pure whistleblower. His act was motivated deeply without any ambiguity by his willingness to protect the general interest.”

Still, martyrdom does not appeal to Mr Deltour. “I cannot say that I am happy to be charged,” he said. “I would prefer not to face the court, but it is normal — I have to face the reality of what I did.”

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