Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) partners, media protection, human rights, transparency and whistleblowing support organisations, alongside international jurists call on Monaco to immediately withdraw the arrest warrant that led to SBM Offshore whistleblower Jonathan Taylor being arrested in Dubrovnik airport.
We call on the Monaco authorities to immediately withdraw all charges against Jonathan Taylor and allow him to return home without further delay. On 31 July 2020, he was arrested and detained at Dubrovnik Airport in Croatia as he arrived for a short holiday with his wife and three children on charges of “bribery and corruption” originally lodged by the public prosecutor in Monaco. In 2014, Mr Taylor blew the whistle on a $275 million international network of bribes paid by his former employer, oil platform company SBM Offshore. Due to evidence he provided to the UK Serious Fraud Office, investigators in Brazil and the Netherlands as well as the FBI and the Department of Justice in the United States, SBM Offshore was fined over $800 million. A judge in Dubrovnik released Jonathan on bail on 3rd August 2020, but he has to remain in Croatia, with the threat of pending legal action hanging over his head.
This is the latest outrageous example of SBM Offshore attempting to misuse legal mechanisms to intimidate and silence Jonathan Taylor for speaking out in the public interest. In 2014, SBM Offshore lodged a criminal complaint in Monaco against Mr Taylor and a year later, they initiated defamation proceedings against him in the Netherlands following an interview he gave in Vrij Nederland, demanding that he publish a retraction and pay damages to SBM Offshore. While this claim ultimately failed, the abuse of legal actions against whistleblowers by wealthy and influential parties demonstrates the precariousness of the public’s right to know and the dangers inherent in blowing the whistle. It is in the public interest to share information that reveals potentially serious criminality that requires investigation by public authorities across the globe. It is a vital safeguard to ensure the rule of law is protected and no one is above or beyond justice. The fundamental importance of whistleblowing is now fully recognised in the European Union and was recently codified in the EU Whistleblowing directive (EU 2019/1937), which states: “providing effective protection to whistleblowers from retaliation increases legal certainty for potential whistleblowers and thereby encourages whistleblowing also through the media.” When organisations and their leadership are not forthcoming, or obstruct calls for transparency and accountability then democracy depends on the actions and courage of whistleblowers such as Jonathan Taylor.
Taylor’s arrest comes after Croatia responded to an Interpol Red Notice produced in reference to the improper charges lodged by his former employer SBM Offshore in 2014 but only issued by Monaco this year. This case is another example of how the red notice system can be abused to target and intimidate critical journalists, whistleblowers and public watchdogs. Countries such as Turkey, Russia, Kazakhstan and others have issued notices against journalists, whistleblowers and human rights defenders, with little scrutiny or oversight, leaving the targets of these notices with few avenues for appeal or protection. Countries, including EU Member States such as Croatia, can refuse to enforce a red notice but, without an effective way to engage in their own independent vetting of these notices there is no consistent approach to handling these requests, leaving whistleblowers such as Taylor unsure of their situation. The uncertainty and dependence on such an opaque system further isolates and victimises whistleblowers, while also dissuading others from coming forward and speaking out in the public interest. While reforms have been made to improve the transparency of the process, work remains to ensure states cannot abuse the system to stifle criticism and demonise critical voices.
We reiterate our call for Monaco authorities to withdraw their charges against Jonathan Taylor, and allow him to return home without delay. We also call on the authorities in Croatia to ensure Jonathan Taylor is afforded all rights and protections against these vexatious legal actions, and reaffirm their commitments to protecting whistleblowers.