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Exposing the Oil Industry Blog

Jonathan Taylor shares his journey of becoming a whistleblower and the appalling consequences he faced for exposing corporate wrongdoing on Protect’s The Inside Story podcast. 

Blowing Open the Lid on Corporate Malfeasance 

Jonathan worked as an in-house lawyer at SBM Offshore, a Monaco-based Dutch oil and gas services company. He exposed a systemic network of corruption at the company. He revealed that bribes totalling over $250m had been paid to secure lucrative contracts in Angola, Brazil, and Equatorial Guinea between 2006 and 2011. Consequently, Taylor provided the authorities in Brazil, Holland, the UK, and the US with information on the company’s illicit activities. His disclosures led to senior executives at the company being prosecuted, and SBM paying $840 million in fines and settlements.  

When Doing the Right Thing Goes Wrong: A Whistleblowing Nightmare 

SBM struck back at Jonathan for blowing the whistle. The company brought defamation proceedings against him in the Dutch courts. The claim was widely considered a strategic lawsuit against public participation (“SLAPP”) designed to silence Jonathan by burdening him with costly legal fees. “A lot of people would have admitted to anything or signed whatever just to stop the pressure of such a large lawsuit and the cost of defending it”, Jonathan comments. SBM failed to produce any evidence and withdrew its claim before Jonathan could have his day in court.  

Then, Monaco issued an Interpol “Red Notice” seeking to extradite Jonathan from Croatia where he was on family holiday. This was purportedly to investigate claims that Jonathan had demanded money to keep quiet about his bribery allegations. Jonathan was detained for 5 days, before being placed on house arrest in Croatia for a year. While SBM Offshore claim not to have influenced the extradition request, the business is one of the largest private employers in the principality – and Monaco authorities have not brought a single claim against SMB. The courts eventually cleared Jonathan after he spent more than two years opposing extradition to Monaco. 

Lessons Learned: Reflections on Speaking Truth to Power 

Jonathan warns prospective whistleblowers to think long and hard about potential negative consequences before disclosing information to authorities and counsels to consider raising concerns anonymously. The Protect adviceline helps callers do just that. Our Legal Advisers offer tailored guidance and support to individuals who raise whistleblowing concerns in the employment context. Their advice is geared towards helping individuals minimise the risk of retaliation and navigate the legal and practical aspects of whistleblowing in the workplace.  

Perhaps the greatest take-away for Jonathan is the need for legal reform. Jonathan told the Inside Story that “it’s not right that whistleblowers should receive SLAPPs, it’s not right whistleblowers should be on the wrong end of a Red Notice… Whistleblowers desperately require protection.” The legal framework and cost procedures in the UK are favourable to powerful entities, attracting a greater proportion of cases than all EU countries combined. Protect advocates for introducing anti-SLAPP law to curb the effects of abusive litigation.