Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Croatia arrests whistleblower who raised alarm on oil bribery scandal

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A British lawyer who blew the whistle on a multi-million-pound bribery scandal in the oil industry has been arrested in Croatia in what he claims is “political persecution.”

Jonathan Taylor, 51, who helped US and Dutch state investigators uncover the bribes at oil firm SBM in Monaco, was arrested on a warrant issued by Monaco as he arrived with his wife, Cindy, and three teenage children for a week-long family holiday in Dubrovnik.

He was held at passport control, questioned and after more than three hours arrested and put in police cells as his wife and children watched through a glass screen from the airport’s arrivals hall.

Yesterday, a Dubrovnik judge ruled he should be held for 30 days which his lawyer will appeal tomorrow.

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Mr Taylor, who worked as a senior lawyer with the Dutch multinational in Monaco, was told he was being held on alleged “bribery and corruption” charges by Monaco prosecutors pending extradition proceedings.

“This is clearly political persecution from the Monaco authorities,” said Mr Taylor, in a message passed to The Sunday Telegraph. “I reach out to the British Government to stop this political pursuit of the whistleblower who exposed corruption at SBM, Monaco’s biggest private sector employer.”

Caroline Nokes, the former Home Office minister, who is Mr Taylor’s MP, said: “We have raised this directly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

“We have ensured consular assistance is available to the family and sincerely hope this is dealt with promptly.”

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SBM agreed to settle criminal corruption charges with the US Justice Department and the Dutch authorities for a combined total of $478m (£364m) relating to bribes for contracts dating back to the Nineties to supply oil drilling platforms around the world. There was similar legal action in Brazil.

Mr Taylor, now a freelance legal contractor, left the company in 2012 but supported investigations into SBM that resulted in the prosecutions of its former executives and a record $240m settlement to the Dutch prosecutor.

It was the biggest corruption case in Dutch history with the settlement allowing the court case to be dropped with no admission of guilt by the company. “We are now a white swan in a pitch-black sea,” said a relieved and proud SBM director Sietse Hepkema at the time.

In a statement to The Sunday Telegraph, SBM said it was not involved in the warrant and had “stopped any legal action against Mr Taylor years ago”.

Mr Taylor’s wife, Cindy, said a previous allegation against her husband of extortion from SBM had been thrown out by judges five years ago after the company offered no evidence.

But she said he had been warned by the Serious Fraud Office, whom he advised on bribery allegations in Iraq, not to travel to Monaco and had been corresponding with them to arrange a meeting on neutral territory.

He had no knowledge of the warrant issued in March when he arrived in Dubrovnik on Thursday. “It was issued by Monaco Interpol on bribery and corruption, which is what he exposed SBM for. It’s laughable. It’s just unbelievable,” said Mrs Taylor.

She said the family knew “something was up” as soon as passport desk officials saw him. He was told to go to one side as the rest of the family were ushered through border controls.

“There was a glass wall so we could see him the whole time through it,” said Mrs Taylor, a member of support staff at a sixth form college in Hampshire where the family lives. After an hour, Mr Taylor was presented with the warrant, which he refused to sign without a lawyer. When he took a photograph of it with his phone, they ordered that he delete the picture and confiscated his phone before handing it to his wife. “It got quite heated, he was told to sit down,” she said.

After three hours, he was taken to police cells, while Mrs Taylor and her children, aged 15, 17 and 19, went to the Dubrovnik hotel where they had planned to spend a relaxing week after the stress of three months in lockdown.

The Monaco prosecutors’ office was contacted by The Sunday Telegraph on Thursday but had not responded by deadline.

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