How Whistleblowers are being assassinated in France (Part I)
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How Whistleblowers are being assassinated in France (Part I)
In the fight against corruption, France cannot just satisfy itself with the existing situation.
Michel Sapin, Minister of Finances, July 2015
France, ‘The Country of Human Rights’
On the international scene, France is perceived as being the country of freedom of speech, of artists, philosophers, men of letters or even the one of poets. The world looks at France. Foreigners remember seeing approximately four million people demonstrate in silence in the streets of the French cities in January 2015 after the attacks, the victims of which were the Charlie Hebdo journalists, because each of them campaigned for the freedom of speech and a free press. Since 1789, the Declaration of Human and Civic Rights is a document of great significance in France as it reflects the ideals of the Republic upon which modern France is founded. It protects the freedom of communication, thoughts and opinions except when one must answer the abuse of this freedom in a frame specified by the law.
My first stay in Moscow was during Christmas 2016 when I gave several interviews to Russian media. In Russia, I was then made aware of the influence exerted internationally by France. Whilst I travelled to Belgium, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom as well as in the United States of America, Mauritius or even Brazil, each of the persons I spoke to was quite astounded to see the violence and the length of my ‘case’. In Moscow, I was not expecting anybody to take an interest in my story. To my great surprise, the French community as well as the French speaking journalists I met there wondered about the image conveyed by the scandal which has taken my life away in the ‘country of Human Rights’. The credibility of France is at stake. I had the feeling that the whole image of our country has to be re-built.
How Whistleblowers are being assassinated by the Elysee
On April 4th, 2017 the day after the Panama Papers were published, President François Hollande declared that “one must protect whistleblowers (because) they take risks and are useful for our society”. It is useful to remember that nobody knows the name, the face, the nationality of the whistleblower(s) in this case? The President’s words of support are contradicting his actions. For example, French key figures could have publicly been decorated. He could also have ensured that our cases be improved and that some of them be compelled to experience precariousness and be totally forgotten.
Since 2012, all the answers received from the Elysee (The French Presidential Palace) stressed on the fact that the protection of whistleblowers is important for our President and that everything is done for the complexity of their situation to be taken into account. How can one believe these words when looking at France from Moscow? Ed Snowden is a refugee in Russia. He had asked for political asylum in France, which had been denied. In a letter dated July 3rd, 2015 sent to President Hollande, Julian Assange, an Australian refugee trapped for six years within the Embassy of Ecuador in London, asked for political asylum. It was also denied although these two men had exposed, among other things, information relating to the surveillance of our threeformer heads of State, as WikiLeaks reminded on their Twitter account just before the first round of the spring 2017 French presidential elections.
The Elysee communication strategy is contradictory, if not hypocritical. The declarations of intent are not commitments, even less actions.
I have sent numerous letters to the Elysee, insisting on the necessity for our country to remain ‘the country of freedom’ in the eyes of the world. One of the two last replies I received from President Hollande’s staff in the summer of 2016, according to which is written: “France cannot welcome these men, namely because Julian Assange is subject of a European arrest warrant” or even that “a positive answer cannot be given because of the legal elements of his material situation which moreover does not represent any immediate danger”. The other letter dated September 30th, 2016 states that: “As far as your concern relating to Mrs Chelsea Manning and Mr Julien (sic) Assange and Edward Swoden (sic again), I did not forget to inform Jean-Marc Ayrault, Minister of Foreign Affairs and of the International Development”. On top of the two spelling mistakes to the first name of one and the family name of the other one (re-typed above), the letter distressingly kicks the ball into doubt when one knows the case of the French diplomat Françoise Nicolas attached to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Photo taken by Mrs. Monique Dits, Free Assange Belgium Committee, Acte 101 - "Protection of Journalists, Publishers and Whistleblowers"
Christophe Deloire, the Secretary General of Reporters without Borders in France states that: “France has denied asylum to Julian Assange and Edward Snowden whereas it was obvious that Europeans had to protect them. If the Elysee had accepted to welcome and protect Assange and Snowden on our territory, if the President had decorated the ones who have taken important risks to defend the general interest, the people would have been grateful towards the French political community. If the actions had followed the touching words pronounced by our Head of State and certain of his Ministers, France would have a much better image on the international scene”.
How Whistleblowers are being assassinated by Ministers
According to key figures among the French elected representatives, the situation of whistleblowers should nowadays be much better than before. This is not true. Everyone remembers that the ‘Sapin II’ law is not an ex post facto law. Furthermore, the stock phrases of our political leaders change according to the themes, the cases and to the people they talk to. Wouldn’t the ‘country of human rights’ namely also have to protect the key witnesses who suffer retaliation? How dare French Ministers declare in the media that they fight tax evasion and that they are in favour of protecting whistleblowers whilst letting the ones who have exposed malfunctions face courts even though the whistleblowers have brought billions of euros to our State?
Our Ministers must be held accountable for their facts and gestures. Their politico-financial scandals have been in the news almost on a daily basis for several years. Whereas the intentions, if not the integrity of the whistleblowers and their honesty have regularly been questioned for a long period of time, the practices of the key elected representatives have never suffered the same level of questioning.
On April 5th, 2016 I was facing Michel Sapin, the French Minister of Finances, on the set of the ‘Cash Investigation’ programme on France 2 when he declared that he was the Minister of Finances who was fighting tax evasion and who was wishing to protect whistleblowers. But when Elise Lucet, the journalist, asked him how, in practical terms, he would break the deadlock of my situation, he answered that he could not do anything. A Minister thus stresses his incapacity to handle individual cases of citizens who, like me, have helped his administration to decipher mechanisms and have helped return the huge amounts back to the State coffers. I felt the contempt for me from this Minister but beyond that, what image does this prominent French politician, who is proud to have a law named after him, give of the ‘elites’ in our country? Therefore if a Minister holding a post in France is not powerful, who could be?
Part of the answer to this question was given by an article published by Le Lanceur on February 1st, 2017: “If the amendments of the ‘Sapin II’ law have made the protection of the whistleblowers clear, the Ministry of Finances considers that the day before Stephanie Gibaud is to appear in court accused of defamation, she “does not enter the frame of the definition of the whistleblower because she is not at the origin of the procedure against UBS”. These are stock phrases. I have always declared that I was a witness, an informant and also a victim of an affair of State. Would the term ‘whistleblower’ be valid only for those “at the origin of the investigation”? Which investigation could be better than another? Would the witnesses of wrongdoings then be limited only to a single person? Who could explain these stock phrases and evasive replies? However, the French law is clear: to expose a malfunction, one must be “a physical person, who is disinterested and sincere”. The members of Parliament have therefore passed a law to protect the whistleblowers yet the one female whistleblower, the most covered by the French media would have “wrongfully taken this term of whistleblower”, as per the statement of the Ministry of Finances to the media since February 2017? Our President and our Prime Minister acknowledge receipt of my letters stressing in 2016 that my file would be handled by the Ministry of Finances and that I would “soon” be received there. All their answers mention the ‘Sapin II’ law whereas the letters dated 2014 were referring to the protection law dated December 6th, 2013 which I cannot enjoy because I was dismissed in 2012. Arnaud Montebourg’s staff after being contacted twice by my mother finally answered on June 10th, 2014 that “the service in charge of my file was reminded to answer to you as soon as possible”. The staff of Mrs Taubira, the former French Minister of Justice in 2014, answered on their side a letter quoting “the April 24th, 2014 recommendation: the Committee of the Ministers of the Council of Europe and the articles of the French Employment law”. The conclusion of this letter was: “I let you appreciate the possible ways and means likely to be taken, and if the need arises, with the support of a lawyer to defend your interests”. On August 9th, 2016 the Deputy to the Head Clerk of the Process and Employment Laws replied on behalf of Mr .Jean-Jacques Urvoas, French Minister of Justice by then, that “the government is sensitive to the necessity to protect the ones who have been disinterested in supplying the interests of the society when exposing wrongdoings”.
What can one think when one read several months later that Jean-Jacques Urvoas had filed a complaint against a young whistleblower who had exposed the fact that his office was paid by the tax payers? It is to be noted that Jean-Jacques Urvoas was also one of the Deputies who voted against the clause relating to the country by country reporting of the multinationals. During a mid-December 2015 night session at the French Parliament, several Deputies voted in favour of the country by country reporting of the multinationals. In summary, multinational companies will have to declare their incomes in each country where they have their activities, for transparency reasons relating to their activities and the taxes paid.
After asking an interruption of the session, followed by a second vote, it turned out that the result was different from the first one “to avoid any risks relating to competitiveness”. This second vote included the ones of friendly Deputies joined to urgently reunite to the benches of the French Parliament. Relaying this very shocking decision made in the context of the LuxLeaks scandal and the French Minister Michel Sapin’s talks regarding the fight against tax evasion, the association “Plateforme Paradis fiscaux et judiciaires” (Platform against Tax andjudicial Havens) stated that: “the corridors of power have mobilized Deputies in the middle of the night […]. A stab in the back from the executive power dangerously slows the fight against tax evasion”. Several months later, the Consitutional Council confirmed, in the frame of the ‘Sapin II’ law, that the country by country reporting “damages the freedom to undertake business”.
Let’s remember that at the beginning of 2015, Emmanuel Macron, the then Minister of Budget in France, was presenting the “Business Secrecy” law at the French Parliament. There was a general outcry. NGOs, unions, journalists and whistleblowers were standing united against this bill whilst media tribunes were published in key daily papers. This law would only have added opacity where obscurity is almost already complete. But many Deputies communicated that they were in favour of the law which they found positive because in their eyes, it was defending ‘our craftsmen and our retailers’. Oh really?
The case of the whistleblower Françoise Nicolas is edifying in terms of opacity: since 2010, six Ministers of Foreign Affairs have been in the post: Bernard Kouchner, Michèle Alliot-Marie, Alain Juppé, Laurent Fabius, Jean-MarcAyrault and Jean-Yves Le Drian. Françoise Nicolas suffered a professional disciplinary sanction and had to be confined to a task keeping her busy fifteen minutes per month (the Administration has refused seventy-two times an appointment to a new position she had asked for in order to go back to a normal professional life) for having briefly talked to Laurent Fabius when he visited Nantes on a unique occasion during which Françoise reminded him her request for a hearing, which has remained unanswered.
How Whistleblowers are being assassinated by the Administration
In parallel to the criticism and humiliations which were my daily life at UBS, something worthy of a Hollywood scenario happened to me. During spring 2011, I received a call from a private number. After several sentences, I understood that it was from a Customs Department (Service National de Douane Judiciaire) answerable to the Ministry of Finances. I was given an appointment in Paris and was accompanied to the basement of a Paris department store where I was shown the insignia of their office and a card where I could see the French national colours and the words ‘République française’ (French Republic). I felt so relieved, innocently thinking by then that my saviour had arrived and at last! Three years before, I had exposed internally something illegal at UBS. I filed a complaint two years ago and I then thought that I would at last be listened to!
But these agents working for the Ministry of Finances informed me that fraud continued at UBS by then and that as a consequence, they would follow me with photographers during the Roland Garros tennis tournament. As every year, I was managing the box and game tickets for the bank and its clients. Three days after meeting them, these civil servants summoned me to their office for a first nine-hour audition. The Ministry of Finances needed documents and additional evidence. This operation consisting of supplying information and data lasted more than a year. I was regularly summoned and was transmitting confidential information relating to UBS, following orders, knowing that I still was one of its executives. If we were in a Hollywood movie, there would definitely be a scene where one would talk about protection. But nothing of the sort happened. Security, protection, status or “whistleblower” actions were never mentioned to me whereas that status does exist. Since, this has been confirmed to me by a certain number of civil servants.
The State administrations play with the whistleblower as they hit a tennis ball round a court. From the Ministry of Finances saying that he cannot do anything for me because I would only be a witness, to the investigating magistrate who, on the contrary, did not audition me as a witness. Since the investigation started, no answers were ever received to the numerous registered letters I sent. Time spent to give explanations to administrations, to different courts, to policemen, to investigators is absolutely not taken into account. It was decided, if not formally recorded, that I am entirely at the disposal of one and the other whilst nobody ever mentioned my income, my work, my career, the time spent with them nor even how I could stand in front of them and give all those pieces of information and the evidence of what I announce and expose. Considered as being an honest citizen, the whistleblower must then only live with the air entering his lungs. In any case, this is what the Ministers and their staff confirm as far as the content of their letters. All the whistleblowers report that my case is far from being isolated.
I then decided to refer my case to theAdministrative Tribunal in order to be compensated for the help I have supplied, according to the article 15-1 of the January 21st, 1995 law that, since June 3rd, expressly makes provision for “[…] customs agents empowered for judicial inquiries can pay any person who does not belong to the public administration and who has supplied information that directly led to either the discovery of crimes or the identification of the perpetrators of crimes (article 28-1 of the Criminal Procedure Code)”. According to the Ministry of Finances, I was not to enjoy this compensation because my collaboration with the Customs Department would be subsequent to the facts. This excuse is purely and simply opportunist because the text applies to pending situations. This refusal has thus been contested at theAdministrative Tribunal in Paris. Furthermore and at the same time, this legal procedure commits the responsibility of the French State because this legal action against the Customs Department, through which the French State falls within the framework of the new area announced as being the one of transparency and exemplarity. Let’s remember here that Bradley Birkenfeld, the American former colleague at UBS, was paid 104 million US dollars whilst I only received letters from the Ministry of Finances and from the top management of the Customs Department to let me know that they could not assist me because I was not a whistleblower but only a witness in a file. On the other hand, the highest level of the State is concerned with the situation of the whistleblowers… etc.
Whichever Administration the whistleblower contacts, the waiting periods for answers are very long and unsuitable for the stakes and for what becomes the life of the whistleblower. Strictly speaking, there are no pressures but they are lived as such because the citizen applies to the Administration in the frame of his protection.
As of today, the protection and the support of our prominent politicians are worth nothing. All talk but with no action. In my case, the State made me take risks when asking me to entrust to its civil servants confidential data belonging to the UBS computer servers while I was still working for the bank. I am a concrete example proving that the State puts the key witnesses at risk, uses them to then let them down. When Michele, a civil servant in the Ile-de-France region, received death threats because she had exposed a double accounting, it also seemed obvious that her protection would be ensured and that she would receive compensation for the loss sustained. Unscrupulous civil servants and advisors working in the shadow sign letters which only are shameless lies. They play with the words, one is being sent to another Administration. When one then writes to the Defender of Rights to explain the urgency of the situation in which one is, a laconic answer is all that is received. They consider that everything is fine for you and that the role of the State has nothing to do in your case. In a word, they evade the issue. They submit to the hierarchies while hoping that you will forget the matter one of these days. Maybe you could think of committing suicide? Everything then would be settled.
Cover photo: The Italian artist and his statues #anythingtosay? in front of the Pompidou Center, Paris. Personal collection
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