A Greek shipping company and its chief engineer were indicted Tuesday for witness tampering and falsifying records to hide the illegal discharge of waste oil into the sea.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the six-count indictment against Chartworld Shipping Corporation, Nederland Shipping Corporation, and Chief Engineer Vasileios Mazarakis. A federal grand jury in Wilmington, Delaware acted after hearing evidence that the company failed to keep accurate pollution control records and falsified records. The charges also include obstruction of justice and witness tampering, according to the DOJ.

The case was brought under the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS), a U.S. law that implements the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, commonly known as MARPOL. The law has a whistleblower provision and investigators say they use it routinely when witnesses come forward.

Continue Reading Pollution from ships law leads to indictment with charges of cover-up, witness tampering

Retaliation against whistleblowers takes many forms.  A little person working at the White House recently reported a supervisor moved files to a high shelf out of her reach. Others report being followed, shunned, smeared, fired and worse. Whistleblowers often find themselves in a hostile work environment.

Julie Myers Wood, a corporate compliance consultant, thinks that works against both whistleblowers and their employers. In-house reporting programs with whistleblower protections built in are the way to go, writes Wood, who has a resume filled with high level federal government positions.

Institutions must shift their mindsets to view the reporting of regulatory problems as an opportunity to shine by addressing the problem, improving the institution and preventing large settlements. 

In a column posted on the Forbes website Monday, she suggests companies work with whistleblowers to both protect the company and strengthen compliance.

Companies need to get to a place where they embrace the potential whistleblower by creating a transparent culture, instilling the shared value of compliance at all levels.

Her advice is not aimed at whistleblowers, some of whom have had bad experiences with in-house hotlines. Advocates suggest employees approach internal reporting systems carefully – they are there to protect the company and can be used against whistleblowers.

Wood encourages the development of internal reporting programs with the message – let’s try to keep this in house. For companies, that is a good thing. But whistleblowers have found that internal reporting isn’t always effective or to their advantage. They have other options. Working with law enforcement or government agencies, they can remain anonymous in many cases and often qualify for a reward.   Continue Reading Can companies protect workers, protect themselves and avoid creating a hostile work environment for whistleblowers?

The General Office of Special Reviews of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of the Inspector General is looking into activities at the VA Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection (OAWP). The Government Executive news site helps sort all that out.

VA Whistleblowers

And the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), where federal workers seek redress from retribution, is basically shut down. The Washington Post has something to say about that.

Last week brought these two tales of dysfunction in the systems that are supposed to protect federal whistleblowers.

VA

The Government Executive offers a thorough report on an investigation into the OAWP, a program designed to protect whistleblowers. The office “is now facing allegations of aiding retaliation against them.”

Continue Reading Federal employee whistleblower protections: Two tales of dysfunction

The New York Times was blunt in its series on crime at sea: “Few places on the planet are as lawless as the high seas, where egregious crimes are routinely committed with impunity.”

Whistleblowers are key to exposing those crimes, including illegal dumping from ships, according speakers at a Tuesday webinar broadcast from Washington. The panel looked at the role private citizens and whistleblowers play in the detecting off-shore crimes, including those that violate a law known as the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS).

“Enforcing, let alone detecting violations on the open ocean– with how vast it is — is just inherently difficult,” said Anton DeStefano, Lieutenant Commander of the U.S Coast Guard’s environmental law division. He noted that we was speaking for himself, not the agency.

Continue Reading From cruise ships to tankers, big boats dump waste into the ocean. Whistleblowers can stop them.

The European Union approved EU whistleblower protection rules Tuesday.

Virginie Rozière EU member head shot
Virginie Rozière / Wikimedia Commons

“This is a good step toward protecting whistleblowers and toward protecting European democracy,” Virginie Rozière, a member the European Parliament (MEP) said in French at a press conference following the decision.

The new law, approved by the European Parliament on Tuesday, shields whistleblowers from retaliation. It also creates “safe channels” to allow them to report breaches of EU law. It is the first time whistleblowers have been given EU-wide protection.

The rules have previously been in the hands of member states, resulting in a range of vastly different approaches.The law was approved by 591 votes, with 29 votes against and 33 abstentions.

Moments after the vote, Virginie Roziere, the French centre-left MEP who steered the file through the parliament, in a tweet claimed victory for European democracy.

“There were a lot of links in the chain for this to be passed,” she said at a press conference in Strasbourg, noting that the negotiations had taken some 13 months.

Danske Bank Whistleblower EU testimony
Kohn and Wilkinson at the EU Parliament

Both Danske Bank whistleblower, Howard Wilkinson, and his attorney, Stephen M. Kohn, chair of the National Whistleblower Center, pushed for stronger protections in the law.

Wilkinson testified before a European Parliament Committee in November. In a letter to EU, Kohn noted the proposed E.U. whistleblower directive “should not undermine the ability of whistleblowers to remain confidential, throughout the reporting process, as this creates the opportunity to intimidate witnesses and may tip criminals off to the evidence against them.”  Continue Reading The European Union approves whistleblower protection rules, 591 to 29

4/23 update:  The LA Times has dug into the California Air National Guard scandal.

Allegations of retaliation against whistleblowers in the California National Guard are more widespread than the complaints made at a Fresno air base that led to a dramatic leadership shakeup of the organization earlier this month, The Times has found.

The paper’s reporters found workers allege retaliation against whistleblowers and a failure of the Guard’s to protect them.

“When a person blows the whistle on wrongdoing, they face almost a guarantee of retaliation,” said Dwight Stirling, a reserve judge advocate who heads the Center for Law and Military Policy and alleges he was targeted for investigation after he reported possible misconduct five years ago. “It’s meant, as in all cases of retaliation, to send a message that if you hold the managers to account, if you bring to light their misconduct, that they’re going to make you pay for it.”

From 4/15: After Staff Sgt. Jennifer Pineda of the California Air National Guard reported finding her boots full of urine, she felt the investigation had turned into a cover-up.

From the LA Times on this military whistleblower case: 

In August 2015, Pineda filed a whistle-blower complaint. She wrote that the main investigator told her that the evidence showed that a woman could not have urinated in the boots, but that she heard that officers speculated that she urinated in them “for attention.” In the complaint, Pineda said that “makes me want this investigation to be complete and legit to prove that I did not do this to myself.” She added that she feared she could be forced to leave the guard.

Continue Reading Unprofessional leadership cited in Air National Guard whistleblower case. Now those leaders are out.  

More whistleblowing in the halls of Congress and other news of the week. 

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, chairman of the House Oversight Committee,  issued a statement this week in honor of the 30th anniversary of the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA).

“We honor the contributions of the brave men and women who report wrongdoing despite great risks to their careers and personal lives as a result of retaliation.  Without the WPA, very few whistleblowers would be willing to come forward.  Congress relies on the WPA to fulfill its Constitutional duty to provide checks and balances on the Executive Branch—the very root of our democracy.”

He noted the role of whistleblowers in the Committee’s investigation into reports of White House efforts to transfer sensitive U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia.

The Atlantic reported last week that “small army of whistle-blowers from across the government has been working in secret with the House Oversight Committee to report alleged malfeasance inside the Trump administration. Lawmakers and aides are reluctant to discuss information they have gleaned from anonymous government tipsters in detail. But the list of whistle-blowers who either currently or previously worked in the Trump administration, or who worked closely with the administration, numbers in the ‘dozens’,” according to an aide to Cummings, a Maryland Democrat.

NPR also reported on the anniversary of the WPA.

ROBERT MACLEAN: Everybody in my neighborhood and my family thought I was insane and I was fighting a futile fight.

…That’s how it felt for Robert MacLean, a federal air marshal who, in 2003, told the public that the TSA canceled air marshal coverage on long-haul flights to cover budget shortfalls.

Continue Reading Don’t die waiting for an IRS whistleblower award. Get better service on Capitol Hill?

A provisional rule approved in March by the European Commission and member countries ensures “robust” protection for whistleblowers, according to the agency’s response to a letter from the National Whistleblower Center (NWC).

Click for EU whistleblower video

Under the proposed rule, whistleblowers would be permitted to report wrongdoing to outside authorities before reporting to their company or agency internal review program. Earlier versions required internal reporting first, which the NWC believes would interfere with the right of employees to confidentially report suspected crimes.

The new rule specifically addresses that issue, wrote Georgia Georgiadou, deputy head of the EU’s Fundamental Rights Policy program. in a letter to Stephen M. Kohn of the NWC.

In particular as regards the agreed rules on reporting channels, whistleblowers are encouraged to report first internally, if the breach they want to reveal can be effectively addressed within their organisation and they consider that there is no risk of retaliation. They may also report directly to the competent authorities as they see fit, in light of the circumstances of the case. Continue Reading EU Commission responds to whistleblowers asking for protection: We’ve got your back

Wildlife trafficking on Facebook took a hit last week, with  Agence France-Press (AFP) reporting that five men were arrested in Indonesia in connection with selling Komodo dragons and other wild animals through Facebook

According to AFP:

The vast Southeast Asian archipelago nation’s dense tropical rainforests boast some of the highest levels of biodiversity in the world and it has for years been a key source and transit point for animal trafficking.

East Java police said they arrested the suspects on Java island for allegedly trafficking the large lizard, as well as bearcats, cockatoos and cassowary birds. The Komodo dragons can be sold for $1,000 to $1,400 each, they told AFP.   Continue Reading Facebook isn’t safe for reptiles. Smugglers busted in Java had five big lizards for sale

The New York Times headline inspired retired Environmental Protection Agency staffer William Sanjour to write to the editor.

The headline read: “Whistle-Blower Did the Unexpected: She Returned to Work”

Why are you surprised that a whistle-blower went back to work?” he wrote in a letter posted Wednesday. “I was a whistle-blower at the Environmental Protection Agency and went back to work for 20 years and continued to blow the whistle, as did several of my whistle-blowing colleagues. That’s the law.”

The law he refers to is the Whistleblower Protection Act and Sanjour relied on it as a long-time critic of his own agency.

The Times story he refers to was about Tricia Newbold, a White House security office staffer. This weekend, she told Congressional investigators that senior White House officials overruled security staff and granted clearances to 25 employees.     Continue Reading Why shouldn’t a White House whistleblower go back to work, asks former EPA whistleblower who did