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‘The world is not ready for whistleblowers yet’

Former lawyer at SBM Offshore, Jonathan Taylor, tells his story of whistleblowing within the oil industry and the attempts to silence him in his fight to expose economic crime.

How I view my experience as a whistleblower depends on whether I focus on the impact of my action on corruption and kleptocracy or on myself.  

If we were to gauge the impact of my whistlelowing on the former, I guess I did quite well. 

As a result of my action, five different prosecutors fined my former employer over $850 million. One of its former CEOs is in prison for three years, another was fined half a million euros and various imprisonments of other salesmen at my former company have also followed. 

I was responsible for the wholesale resignation of what used to be the, the biggest market capitalisation company in the southern hemisphere, Petrobras, that’s the national oil and gas company of Brazil. I probably contributed to the downfall of Dilma Rousseff, who was very much involved in the whole scandal as a former Energy Minister and then Chairperson of Petrobras and then the President of Brazil, who ultimately was impeached. Likewise, kleptocrats in Angola have been identified and now they’re being pursued through the Portuguese courts. 

So, all in all, I like to think that I have something to show for my whistleblowing, and certainly the company could never claim that it got away with it, as much as it tried to cover up its corruption. I didn’t hold back in making sure that their corruption was brought to justice. 

But if, however, you measure and gauge my whistleblowing by the results to the individual, then I couldn’t really have been impacted any worse. I fear very much that anyone who has seen what has happened to me and what’s going on with me now will cause potential whistleblowers in the future to back off. The results could not really have been much more devastating for me. 

The retaliation against me started in 2015, when a SLAPP – which is an acronym that stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation – was issued against me by my former employer to try to silence me. This was used to try to ruin me financially so I wouldn’t be able to defend the suit and to try and force me to say that all I had said was totally untrue. They sought an injunction against me from ever speaking again through fear of being fined 10,000 euros per day for so long as the injunction was breached, and they were seeking damages of 630,000 euros from me. They got an ex parte illegality injunction against my house and my bank accounts. 

Fortunately, I found a fine lawyer that acted for me on a partially pro bono basis and did a fine job. We filed an extremely good defence in the Netherlands, where the proceedings were commenced. We presented 140 exhibitsbut they withdraew the case at the last minute so I never had my day in court. I was never able to defend defamation proceedings publicly and of course, the costs are not awarded in the Dutch court. As such I had to pay for my legal costs, so my former employer got away pretty much scott free from trying to ruin me financially and probably mentally too. Yes, it did have that chilling effect, which was intended, of course.  

But that as it turned out to be the tip of the iceberg. Now I sit here, my whistleblowing has cost me dearly. It has cost me a year of my life. It has cost me my marriage. It has cost me my career. I was a lawyer in the oil and gas industry, no one in the oil and gas industry will employ a lawyer who has been a whistleblower. The effects could not really have been much more dramatic upon me, and it spells out to the world how ill-equipped the world is for whistleblowers like me.  

Now, I could just go away and be utterly miserable for the rest of my life as a result of being a whistleblower, wondering what’s going to happen next?  What I like and what I pray and what I hope will come out of this is that people will see what happened to Taylor and if they’re going to pass legislation to support whistleblowers, they will try to make sure the legislation passes the Taylor test because without that it’s not good enough. 

The world is not ready for whistleblowers yet. That is so profoundly obvious. I’m still being chased by the state of Monaco, persecuted with a frivolous and vexatious charge. The story is continuing, it still has not come to an end. 

But again, I don’t want to feel that all my time has been wasted. I did bring corruption to justice against SBM and we are working to improve protections for whistleblowers. I would implore lawmakers, if they don’t already know my case, look at my case, look what happened to me and pass legislation that seeks to protect people like me. Otherwise, you know, we’re not going in the right direction. The world is not equipped for whistleblowers at the moment. 


Story adapted from our event: Tackling Corruption: Is Whistleblowing the First Line of Defence? See the full event here