Rewards for non-U.S. whistleblowers

Many U.S. whistleblower reward laws and provisions allow for whistleblowers around the globe to receive rewards for providing information that leads to successful fraud prosecutions.

Under powerful U.S. whistleblower reward laws, non-U.S.-based whistleblowers can be eligible for a reward for bringing forward information that results in a successful prosecution, enforcement action or other outcome, dependent on the agency or law’s language. As long as the violation in question has a U.S. nexus or violates certain U.S. law, whistleblowers often can qualify for protections and rewards.

In 2015, an international tax fraud whistleblower, Bradley Birkenfeld, received the largest reward ever given to an individual under U.S. federal whistleblower reward laws. For disclosing illegal offshore accounts held in Switzerland by U.S. citizens through UBS bank to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Birkenfeld received a $104 million reward. Though he was located outside the U.S. and the fraud he witnesses was taking place far from U.S. borders, he was able to rely on U.S. law. He is far from the only international whistleblower. The IRS rewarded 282 whistleblowers from outside the United States in FY 2019 alone.

Federal agencies like the IRS, Department of Justice (DOJ), U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) all manage whistleblower reward programs, many of which allow for confidential disclosures and guarantee workplace protections. These programs have been created under powerful qui tam laws such as the False Claims Act, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and Securities Exchange Act. This robust framework of whistleblower reward laws incentivizes whistleblowers across the world to make disclosures through U.S. agencies and under U.S. laws.

Agencies like the SEC benefit greatly from the assistance of non-U.S. whistleblowers when investigating international securities fraud violations. The former Director of Enforcement at the SEC, Andrew Ceresney, said in 2016: “International whistleblowers can add great value to our investigations.” The data bears this out. The SEC has noted that since its program inception in 2011, a total of 3,305 whistleblowers from 119 countries outside of the U.S. have filed claims under whistleblower reward provisions.

In one recent case from December 2017, the SEC awarded a whistleblower from outside the U.S. $41 million for stepping forward with information despite the potential risk of retaliation. The SEC award determination notes that the whistleblower’s concerns that American “employment anti-retaliation protections” may not be meaningful outside of U.S. borders. It is concerns like these that demonstrate why financial rewards are so important: they provide crucial motivation to those with original insider information to come forward despite the risk to their career.

Another powerful law with strong reward provisions is the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), which is jointly enforced by the SEC and DOJ. The law has an extremely broad scope and worldwide application, as it is used to prosecute bribes paid abroad by companies directly or indirectly connected to the U.S.. The FCPA applies to all U.S. or foreign public companies listed on stock exchanges in the U.S. or companies that are required to file periodic reports with the SEC. It also extends to a company’s employees, officers, stockholders, and agents such as third-party actors, distributors, and consultants.

Many rewards have been granted to non-U.S. whistleblowers who rely on the FCPA to make their disclosures. In one notable example from 2014, a foreign national whistleblower received $30 million for their assistance in prosecuting an FCPA violation, at the time the largest-ever award to a whistleblower. In granting this reward, the SEC ruled that: “[I]t makes no difference whether . . . the claimant was a foreign national, the claimant resides overseas, the information was submitted from overseas, or the misconduct comprising the U.S. securities law violation occurred entirely overseas.” Under the FCPA, whistleblowers privy to information regarding bribery and corruption that could lead to a successful prosecution can get rewarded; no matter what country they reside in or witness the crime, as long as it has its U.S. nexus. 

Whistleblowers who uncover evidence regarding environmental crimes also have avenues to receive rewards under certain laws. Laws like the Lacey Act and the Act to Prevent Pollution From Ships (APPS) contain whistleblower reward provisions for whistleblowers who bring forth evidence of wildlife trafficking and shipping pollution, respectively. Over 50% of prosecutions under the APPS rely on whistleblowers. According to the DOJ, under the APPS “significant whistleblower awards…have become a routine practice,” as has paying APPS rewards to non-U.S. citizens. The largest APPS award issued went to a group of whistleblowers from the Philippines in USA v. Overseas Shipholding Group Inc., where they were awarded $5.25 million for their assistance.

A wide framework of laws exist that non-U.S. whistleblowers can turn to in order to receive rewards for their disclosures of fraud, waste, and abuse. Due to the wide breadth of laws, the National Whistleblower Center is committed to educating whistleblowers around the world about whistleblower reward provisions in U.S. law. Learn more about major whistleblower laws around the world and in the United States on our website.

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