Foreign Corruption Whistleblowers

Securities and Exchange Commission

In announcing its first two whistleblower awards of the year, the Securities and Exchange Commission notes:

As set forth in the Dodd-Frank Act, the SEC protects the confidentiality of whistleblowers and does not disclose information that could reveal a whistleblower’s identity.

In one case, a whistleblower alerted the agency to a fraudulent scheme and received a share of the recovery — $277,000.  In another case, an investor alerted the SEC. That person was awarded $45,000.

The SEC also notes: All payments are made out of an investor protection fund established by Congress that is financed entirely through monetary sanctions paid to the SEC by securities law violation.

We await action on proposed changes to the SEC whistleblower law that could hurt whistleblowers.

Nigeria

Worldwide, whistleblowers have much less protection than they do in the U.S. Nigeria, for example, did poorly on this week’s Corruption Perception survey, scoring a 26 out of 100. A new video from an ongoing anti-corruption effort tells the stories of several Nigerian whistleblowers.


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Corruption persists worldwide and whistleblowers in many countries risk everything. So, two years ago a group of lawyers, anti-corruption activists and investigative journalists founded PPLAAF – French acronym for Plateforme de Protection des Lanceurs d’Alerte en Afrique –  Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa.

PPLAAF co-founder, veteran French human rights lawyer William Bourdon, told

The business writers at The New York Times promise a bump in white-collar crime news in 2020. At the same time, a series of reports raises concerns about oversight of the accounting industry.

From The Times:

Goldman Sachs is negotiating with the Justice Department to pay a penalty of about $2 billion for its role in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal, known as 1MDB.

Accounting fraud became a particular focus of the Justice Department toward the end of 2019. In December, federal prosecutors indicted executives from Outcome Health and MiMed, and opened an investigation into whether BMW, the German automaker, manipulated its sales figures.

The 1MDB case involves 17 Goldman Sachs executives accused by Malaysia of taking  $2.7 billion of the $6.5 billion raised for the 1MDB fund.

How that case will be resolved is an open question because the Malaysian authorities are looking to recoup all of the money raised on behalf of 1MDB.

In the United States, federal prosecutors are looking at possible money-laundering and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations by Goldman.

The Times reports the money raised by the fund was to finance infrastructure and other public development projects in Malaysia. But instead, it went to pay bribes and “fuel the lavish lifestyle” of a local financier involved in the case, according to charges.


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Whistleblowers worldwide pay a high price for exposing fraud and abuse. They are especially vulnerable in with counties with institutionalized corruption no rule of law. But, the demand for whistleblower protection is growing worldwide. Click here or the map for a sample of the stream of news about changing whistleblower laws.

One option for international whistleblowers: The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The act prohibits corporations, both U.S. and international, from paying bribes to foreign officials and offers rewards.  Click here to read the FCPA in English and 14 other languages.

From the National Whistleblower Center: 

In a major breakthrough for international whistleblowers, on July 21, 2010n President Obama signed legislation that permits whistleblowers, including foreign nationals, to apply for monetary rewards based on reporting bribery prohibited under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act mandates that the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) pay whistleblowers monetary rewards if they provide the U.S. government with information that leads to the successful enforcement of the FCPA.  The act is applicable even if bribes are paid in a foreign country and the whistleblower is a foreign national.


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The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) financial whistleblower program has been busy, most lately announcing a $2 million award to “two model whistleblowers who provided the agency with significant information that prompted the CFTC to open an investigation….The multiple interviews and numerous documents the whistleblowers provided were highly informative and formed the basis of the CFTC’s investigation.”

its largest whistleblower awardIn June, the agency announced a $2.5 million award, which followed a $1.5 million reward announced in May. The agency reports awarding more than $87 million to whistleblowers between 2014 and 2018.

The agency is committed to the program, according to a quote from director James McDonald in a press release announcing the May award.

Today’s award stands as one in a growing line of whistleblower awards that show the Commission’s continued commitment to the program. Whistleblowers have become an integral part of our enforcement efforts, and I expect that trend to continue going forward.
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6/27 Update:  The ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) will seek access to the trial of accused whistleblower David McBride, according to Commonwealth lawyers, who say the national broadcaster has expressed an interest in influencing orders affecting the trial.

Mr McBride, 55, was greeted outside the ACT Supreme Court this morning by a group of protesters supporting his case, holding signs with statements like “protect whistleblowers, defend democracy”.


The recent arrest of an Australian whistleblower and police raids on journalists’ offices have triggered movement toward stronger whistleblower protection laws in that country.  Another case in the Australian news is a reminder that whistleblowers often give up beloved careers to expose wrongdoing.

In one a recent case, a federal judge was quoted calling Australia’s whistleblower laws “technical, obtuse and intractable.”

From The Guardian:

Transparency campaigners have welcomed attorney general Christian Porter’s announcement that whistleblower protections will be strengthened, while urging him to establish a new whistleblower protection authority, create a compensation scheme and shield a broader range of people.

Porter on Friday flagged his intention to overhaul public sector whistleblower protections, in an attempt to make the system simpler and more accessible to government employees.

More from The New York Times on David William McBride, who is charged with leaking classified military documents to Australian Broadcasting Corporation journalists. McBride admits to leaking documents that led to a story on Australian special forces in Afghanistan.


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Citizens and activists can help stop environmental crime, but they need to know which laws apply, how to collect evidence and when to get a lawyer.

Different approaches to the role of citizens in collecting and reporting evidence of environmental crime were discussed last week by a three panelists at the Environmental Law Institute in Washington, DC.

In many cases, there is no meaningful law enforcement to stop environmental crimes. That’s where citizens can come in.

By understanding how to collect evidence and navigate whistleblower programs, anyone can help enforce environmental laws. Anyone includes, NGO staff, those impacted by crime or insiders, such as cruise ship crews.

John Kostyack, director of National Whistleblower Center, talked about a range of existing federal laws with provisions that reward citizens who come forward with credible information about environmental crime.  Shaun Goho of the environmental law clinic at Harvard Law School talked about how the courts are likely to interpret evidence and expert testimony. Stevie Lewis of the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science said the EPA has been slow to act on the recommendations in a 2016 report on promoting citizen science. But, her group hasn’t.

Kostyack started his talk with a slide of a small, endangered porpoise known as the vaquita, according to a video of the event.

“It’s really a fitting symbol of what we’re up against,” he said. “The forces that are driving this beautiful animal to extinction in its home in the Gulf of California are the same forces that are driving much of the environmental devastation around the world and those are the forces of crime.”


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Did local regulators in Estonia and Denmark fail to flag the Danske Bank’s money laundering scheme? Seems EU regulators can’t decide whether it was clearly money laundering or not.

EU bank regulators looked into it and said yes. But their superiors, the European Banking Authority (EBA) board of supervisors, felt the failings did not amount to a breach of EU law. The European Commission, which requested the review, disagrees and plans to pursue the EU investigation into Danske Bank’s scandal.

All this inspired a Bloomberg columnist to write:

Money launderers and financial criminals should — in theory — have good reason to fear the European Union’s army of white-collar cops. The bloc boasts 28 national financial regulators, a euro-zone banking regulator in Frankfurt (the Single Supervisory Mechanism), an EU-wide banking supervisor in London (the European Banking Authority), and a financial markets watchdog in Paris (the European Securities and Markets Authority). It’s a blizzard of three- and four-letter acronyms. 

Whistleblower Howard Wilkinson exposed the Danske bank scandal. He reported suspicious activity at bank’s Estonia branch, where he worked until 2014. Since then, investigators have identified up to $20 billion in fraudulent financial activity. National Whistleblower chair Stephen M. Kohn is Wilkinson’s whistleblower lawyer.
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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.
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Corrupt government officials and informants who fear retribution. These are some of the challenges faced by citizens who become involved in helping enforce illegal logging regulations.

Three panelists discussed these and other forestry crime issues at March 21 webinar on “Citizen enforcement in the forestry sector”– Melissa Blue Sky, of the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL); Ruth Noguerón, of the World Resources Institute and  Shelley Gardner, Illegal Logging Program Coordinator, USDA Forest Service. Each touched on the issue.

Interpol estimates that illegal timber comprises 15-30% of the global timber trade. That amounts to between $51 and $152 billion worth of wood every year.

A study of illegal timber harvesting in Peru found that exporters are adept at finding new ways to evade export controls, Blue Sky said.

For example, harvesting modalities not always subject oversight in Peru. Timber is “red flagged” as illegal but exported anyway– often to countries without timber regulations. In some cases, documentation about the source of the timber is manipulated.

“In many cases, it involves that active participation of government officials and until they are held accountable for that, you don’t get at the root of the problem,” Blue Sky said.


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