Whistle-Blower Needed a Smoke Before Giving Up LuxLeaks Databy
Antoine Deltour among three men on trial for taking tax data
PwC documents cataloged tax deals with global companies
The man who uncovered secret Luxembourg deals that helped companies slash tax rates was actually looking for training documents when he stumbled upon the files on his computer at PricewaterhouseCoopers.
On the eve of his departure from the accounting firm in 2010, Antoine Deltour wasn’t fully aware of what he had discovered. He copied the folder and within half an hour had about 45,000 pages detailing confidential tax agreements that became known as the LuxLeaks.
Deltour’s discovery triggered the first in a wave of scandals over how thousands of international companies, including Walt Disney Co., Microsoft Corp.’s Skype and PepsiCo Inc., moved money around the globe to avoid taxes. It also landed him in trouble after PwC sued and prosecutors charged him and two other men with theft and violation of business secrets.
“I had discovered gradually the administrative practice of these deals,” Deltour, 30, told a three-judge panel at his trial in Luxembourg Tuesday. “The opportunity to have stumbled over this folder led me to copy it at that moment without a clear goal in mind,” knowing about the “sensitive and highly confidential nature of these files.”
Deltour “felt a bit surprised by the volume of the” files and “didn’t immediately do anything with this mass of information,” he told the court. He felt “isolated” and “alone” and unsure of who to turn to.
Months later he was contacted by journalist Edouard Perrin, who was working on a documentary about tax practices. The pair met only once, at Deltour’s home in Nancy, France, where Deltour said he needed a moment before handing over the files.
“Of course I hesitated,” Deltour told the judge. “I went to smoke a cigarette on the balcony to think a few moments about this.”
The resulting 2012 documentary by Perrin, who is also a defendant in the case, led to interest from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The group put the documents online in 2014, triggering the LuxLeaks scandal.
Perrin, 44, another French citizen, was charged in April 2015 with being the accomplice of Raphael Halet, another ex-PwC staffer who is accused of stealing 16 corporate tax returns from the accounting firm and giving them to the journalist. Perrin is also accused of having urged Halet to search for specific documents, a charge both men rejected.
Perrin faced questions Tuesday about how exactly he had found Deltour and under what circumstances they met. A recurring theme in all three cases was whether at any point anyone received money. The answer was always no.
“It was clear to me that he had very strong convictions about the impact of these fiscal practices on the system in Luxembourg and other countries,” Perrin told the judge after being asked about Deltour. He realized how this was all about a “systematic plundering of fiscal resources” which was exactly the topic of the documentary he was working on.
Halet, who didn’t know Deltour, had access to tax files that were already in Perrin’s possession. Halet then said he could provide additional documents, and offered tax returns by big companies. Perrin said in his 2012 documentary, he only used files concerning Amazon.com Inc. and ArcelorMittal.
The LuxLeaks revelations sped beyond Luxembourg, causing European Union regulators to expand a tax subsidy probe and propose new laws to fight corporate tax dodging, while EU lawmakers created a special committee to probe fiscal deals across the 28-nation bloc.
Global attention has in the past few months switched to the discovery of documents known as the Panama Papers. The same group of investigative journalists who published the LuxLeaks data published files from a Panamanian law firm that disclosed how billions of dollars are hidden in tax havens.