This page highlights some European whistleblowing cases.
The following cases are of interest because they suggest
some of the social benefits, personal costs and institutional
resistance to whistleblowing.
Stanley Adams (Adams v Hoffmann-La Roche)
Executive Stanley Adams alerted the European Commission
to anti-competitive practices by Swiss-based pharmaceutical
giant Hoffmann-La Roche. The Commission fined Hoffmann
for abuse of its dominant position in the bulk vitamin
market but during antitrust procedings disclosed information
that enabled Hoffmann to identify Adams, who was consequently
arrested and convicted for unauthorised disclosure under
Adams successfully sought damages from the Commission,
which was held by the European Court to have failed its
obligation "not to disclose information of the kind
covered by the obligation of professional secrecy, in
particular information about undertakings, their business
relations or their cost components". The case is
discussed in Roche versus Adams (London: Cape
1984) by Adams. In 1999 Roche was fined US$500 million
in the US for a repeat of its offence.
Anton Piller KG v Manufacturing Processes Ltd,
the 1976 UK case that has given its name to an interlocutory
order (the 'Anton Piller Order'), followed an instance
In his judgement in that case Lord Denning commented that
executives in Manufacturing Processes Ltd, an agent for
electronics manufacturer Anton Piller, identified that
Manufacturing was planning to illicitly provide commercially
sensitive intellectual property to Piller's competitors.
The executives were
upset by what was going on ... that on their own initiative,
without any approach by the plaintiffs whatsoever, ...
one or both flew to Germany. They told the plaintiffs
what they knew about the arrangements ... In making
these disclosures, both Mr Firth and Mr Knight were
putting themselves in a perilous position, but the plaintiffs
assured them that they would safeguard their future
and Holocaust Claims
In 1997 Union Bank of Switzerland night watchman Cristoph
Meili rescued Holocaust-related documents that were being
illegally shredded by the bank (in direct violation of
Swiss law for protection of such material).
UBS, Switzerland's largest bank, acknowledged that it
had "made a deplorable mistake" but fired Meili
and had him arrested for breaching bank
The case is discussed in Hitler's Silent Partners:
Swiss Banks, Nazi Gold & the Pursuit of Justice
(New York: Morrow 1997) by Isabel Vincent and in The
Victim's Fortune (New York: Perennial 2002) by John
Authers & Richard Wolffe.
and Olympics corruption
Swiss sports administrator and International Olympic Committee
member Marc Hodler (1918-2006) revealed corruption in
the IOC in 1998. A colleague commented that
He'd reached breaking point. He was very anti-corruption,
from an era when sports officials had genuine statesman-like
qualities, and he didn't like the direction that the
IOC was going. So he just happened to mention a few
things to the press one afternoon in Lausanne.
revealed that voting for Games in Atlanta, Sydney, Nagano
and Salt Lake City had been corrupted by vote-buying.
Four 'agents', including at least one IOC member, offered
to deliver blocks of votes to select cities to stage the
Games, with winning cities being charged up to US$5m.
Committee members had received lavish gifts, prostitutes,
jobs and university courses for their children; one received
a prestigious concert tour for his piano-playing daughter.
Hodler's comments were taken seriously: he was an IOC
vice-president, served four terms on its rule-making executive,
chaired its finance committee and, because of his pre-eminence
within skiing, he had chaired the evaluation committees
of the candidate venues for four Winter Games.
Hodler was ordered not to talk to the media. When asked
if he had been silenced, he made a motion across his lips
like a zip and told journalists
I have been muzzled. Apparently I said too much.
However, around 10% of the IOC membership resigned or
was ejected after being proven to have taken 'excessive'
gifts and inducements. Future recipients will presumably
be more discreet.
Gunn, Tisdall, Vanunu and war
Whistleblowing about war remains deeply contentious because
of disagreements about ethics and the interaction of free
speech with official secrets
legislation and media privilege.
Examples in the UK include senior civil servant Clive
Ponting, Katharine Gun
and Sarah Tisdall; the latter received a six-month jail
sentence under the UK Official Secrets Act after
the Guardian disclosed that she was its source
of documents about cruise missile policy.
Translator Katharine Gun gained attention in 2004 when
prosecuted by the UK Government under Official Secrets
litigation for leaking the US National Security Agency's
request for help in bugging 'swing states' on the UN Security
Council regarding a resolution authorising invasion of
was shocked. I knew I couldn't stand by and watch the
bugging operation happen. If the war went ahead as a
result, I knew hundreds of thousands of innocent people
were going to die. I thought about it over the weekend
and, by the Monday, I had decided that I would leak
the e-mail to the press. I didn't really think about
what the consequences of my actions might be for me
because I didn't want to lose my nerve. I sent the e-mail
to a friend who agreed to send it anonymously to a media
Four weeks later, I walked into my local newsagent's
to buy my Sunday newspaper and there was the e-mail
on the front page. I was absolutely dumbstruck. I'd
had no warning. I was physically sick for the whole
weekend because I was so worried. GCHQ immediately tried
to find the source of the leak. I confessed to my line
manager on the Wednesday. Later that day, I was arrested
and spent the night in police custody.
It was eight months before I was charged. And so for
that time I was in limbo, not knowing what would happen
to me. Sometimes I didn't feel like I had any hope.
Then, in early November 2003, my solicitor called to
say I would be charged. ... We found out the day before
I was due to appear at the Old Bailey that the case
would be dropped. ... Since then, I haven't done a great
deal. I needed time to get my confidence back
Magnus Linklater, contrasting her treatment with that
of former Minister and memoirist
Clare Short, commented that Gunn
not only the loss of her job, but prosecution and possible
imprisonment under the Official Secrets Act. Whether
you approve of what she did or not, that was an act
of conscience which took some courage to carry out.
Ms Short risks nothing more than another round of media
Vanunu provided the London Sunday Times with
information in 1986 about alleged nuclear weapon development
activity at Israel's Dimona research facility, subsequently
being abstracted from Sydney and imprisoned in Israel.
An account is provided by Seymour Hersh's The Samson
Option: Israel, America & the Bomb (London: Faber
1997). Vanunu served an 18-year sentence but was indicted
in 2005 for overtly violating the terms of his release.
and the European Commission
Former European Commission chief accountant Marta Andreasen
was sacked in 2004 after claiming that the EU's budget
was open to large-scale fraud.
Andreasen was suspended in 2002 when, after refusing to
sign off the EU accounts, she went public with allegations
that lax accounting left the £62bn-a-year budget
"massively open to fraud" because the Commission
did not have a global standard double-entry book-keeping
system and secure computer accounting programmes, despite
complaints from the European Court of Auditors.
The Commission argued that
gravity of Ms Andreasen's conduct has constituted an
irredeemable breach of the trust which the Commission
is entitled to expect from its officials, and consequently
made it impossible to maintain any employment relationship
between her and the institution.
stated in 2005 that
I started my job at the European Commission in January
2002, I found their accounts in a state of chaos. They
didn't follow any standard accounting principles. They
didn't even register all the transactions, which meant
that it was impossible to check whether the right amounts
were being paid to the right people. It was really awful.
If money went missing, I, as chief accountant, was responsible.
Yet, from my first week in the job, I was being asked
to sign off payments and accounts that I knew were vulnerable
to fraud. I told my bosses that we needed to take steps
immediately to reform the system. But they refused.
So I was cornered into signing off payments against
my better judgment.
The situation went on for two months. I pushed for changes.
They refused. Eventually, I told my bosses that unless
there were reforms, I would feel obliged to withhold
my signature on certain payments as I felt I was going
against the ethics of my profession. It was not a threat.
It was a statement of the norms of my profession.
Instead of supporting me, my superiors threatened me
with dismissal .... By May, I had been removed from
my post. I was moved to a new office, but I had no new
responsibilities. I didn't really have a job any more.
Unidentified sources started criticising me in the press.
I asked for protection from the EC, but I didn't get
it. They then launched disciplinary proceedings against
I was concerned about my person, my professional future,
my security, everything. I thought, 'What else am I
waiting for? I need to defend myself.' And so I attended
a press conference in August 2002. I hoped that, with
the press behind me, I would be more secure. I didn't
have the means to fight this powerful institution on
have noted that whistles had been blown by EC accountant
Paul van Buitenen and others from 1998 onwards. Hans-Martin
Tillack's sobering 'From Brussels to Burma' in Silenced:
International Journalists Expose Media Censorship
(Amherst: Prometheus 2005) edited by David Dadge offers
a sobering view of police in search of whistleblowers.
and UK prisons
A UK employment tribunal awarded former prison officer
Carol Lingard £477,600 compensation (and £90,000
legal costs) after she blew the whistle on misbehaviour
by staff at Wakefield high-security prison in West Yorkshire.
The sum, thought to be a record for a UK public sector
whistleblower, covers lost income and pension in addition
to hurt to feelings, reflecting her constructive dismissal
as a 'grass'.
Neil Mitchell, chief executive of UK software developer
Torex Retail, was sacked in June 2007 after contacting
the Serious Fraud Office earlier in the year with concerns
regarding Torex's accounts. He had agreed to stand down
temporarily as chief executive in February, indicating
that he intended to return to his position and citing
legal protection afforded to whistleblowers.
Torex shares had been suspended since January when the
company issued a profit warning and warned of higher debt,
eight days after it issued an upbeat trading statement.
That warning was followed by raids on addresses in Oxfordshire.
In an interview Mitchell claimed that he had been chased
through London Underground tube stations as a result of
his plans to approach the SFO.
In August 2007 British Telecom paid a six-figure sum to
two whistle-blowers who accused it of an Enron-style financial
scandal in which managers are alleged to have covered
up a £1.5m fraud regarding questionable payments
Rosemary Greaves and John McGlone had worked for BT for
a total of 40 years. The payout follows action in a UK
employment tribunal, where they alleged that they were
bullied and forced out of the company because they raised
concerns. They had accused BT executives of exaggerating
returns on investments in order to support projects deemed
to be of no or very little benefit to the company.
(Australian whistleblowing cases 1)