Web of EU whistleblower laws traps Petrobras whistleblower in Croatia

by Laura Peterson, Senior Research Advisor
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Web of EU whistleblower laws traps Petrobras whistleblower in Croatia

The dramatic tale of a whistleblowing oil executive trapped in a coastal holiday village demonstrates the pitfalls surrounding European whistleblowers dealing with competing laws and emphasizes the need for Europe-wide protections.

Jonathan Taylor arrived in Dubrovnik, Croatia, with his family last summer for a vacation. The former lawyer for Dutch oil services provider SBM Offshore blew the whistle on his employer in 2012 for bribing Brazilian officials in what became a major scandal against Brazilian oil giant Petrobras.

When the Taylors disembarked, they were detained by Interpol officers, who said they were acting on a notification of an extradition warrant. The warrant was reportedly based on bribery and corruption charges filed against Taylor by SBM in Monaco, where the company has an office and Taylor was based. SBM had filed the charges years earlier, and Taylor’s lawyer said they were thrown out in 2018.

It’s unclear why the allegations resurfaced, but Taylor believes the warrant was issued in retaliation for his whistleblowing. Taylor worked with authorities in several countries to prove his allegations that SBS funneled nearly $150 million to Petrobras via offshore bank accounts between 2005 and 2011. His disclosures resulted in Brazil, the Netherlands and the United States fining SBM hundreds of thousands of dollars, the resignation of Petrobras’ CEO, and the imprisonment of several SBM managers.

A Croatian court refused to extradite Taylor to Monaco but said he must stay in Dubrovnik until he can find a way for the United Kingdom or another country to intervene. Whistleblower laws in the European Union are handled by individual member states, when they exist at all, and the ones that do exist are often weak, lacking penalties for retaliatory employers or compensation for whistleblowers.

The danger this patchwork of laws poses to whistleblowers was the initiative behind the landmark Whistleblowing Directive passed by the European Parliament in April 2019. The Directive instructed member countries to incorporate protections into their national laws that shield whistleblowers from retaliation and create “safe channels” to report violations of the law.

NWC has supported this initiative by fighting to ensure the new standards offer sufficient protections. NWC is also partnering with EU-based nonprofit Whistleblowing International to launch a project that will educate prospective whistleblowers on how to confidentially disclose information about illegal activities to authorities and qualify for financial awards under U.S. and other laws.

EU states are working to implement the Whistleblowing Directive with a deadline of December 17, 2021. In the meantime, Jonathan Taylor will remain trapped in Croatia until the burgeoning European whistleblower movement finds a way to help him.

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