This week marks the first anniversary of the ‘Panama Papers’ leaked from the Panama-based law firm of Mossack Fonseca. Actions have taken place in several different countries. In London the message on the banner outside PwC was ‘In Praise of whistle-blowers’, saying no more bullying, which is what PwC did to Raphaël Halet, one of the Lux-leakers who in 2014 blew the whistle on PwC’s sweetheart tax deals with the Luxembourg Government and 340 international companies.
Among the interesting conversations as protestors distributed leaflets detailing a range of scandals involving PwC was one with an older employee, apparently a senior manager, asking why we were here and what we wanted. We said to encourage and protect whistle-blowers, and to urge morality in the accounting and audit business. Another PwC employee said he was astonished at the list of misdemeanours on our leaflet. A third was a local off-duty police inspector who said he and his colleagues had to keep dealing with people with drug or mental health problems, who then got small fines, while society’s real problems lay behind the façade of this magnificent suite of offices.
The worst case of PwC’s behaviour was its treatment of the whistleblower Halet, when they tracked him down, forcing him to sign a non-disclosure agreement with the threat of suing him for ten million euros if he said publicly in Court what had happened when he was sent for trial. So he did not offer a defence of acting in the public interest, until one of the lawyers in the case noticed that an agreement had been signed and demanded to see it. When it was put before the judge he announced it had no legal basis. Halet had been invited to join the protest but was unable to travel, but in his absence was given the ‘Tax Transparency Award for 2017’.
The banner ‘In Praise of Whistle-blowers’ was displayed in the hope that the action would encourage others to inform of such immoral activities. The world needs to know what goes on behind the closed doors of tax accountants and lawyers. Following the protest, a meeting took place with a number of NGOs and agencies about setting up a Tax Justice Network UK, to act alongside the others around the world and to become a part of Tax Justice Europe.
The star of the protest was the three-week old infant of one of the organisers who arrived in a tee-shirt saying ‘Tax Justice Baby’. She was fine for the first ten minutes but when it was explained to her what PwC was doing she burst into tears. One observer remarked, ‘It should be the people in that building who should be upset with what goes on, not you!'
Chair, Methodist Tax Justice Network
5th April 2017