Jonathan Taylor: SBM Offshore - Commons Urgent Question

– in the House of Lords at 1:21 pm on 10th November 2020.

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The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Monday 9 November.

“I am very aware that my right honourable friend has been taking a very keen interest in this issue. Mr Taylor exposed corruption at the Monaco-based Dutch multinational SBM Offshore in 2012. He was arrested in Croatia on 30 July this year on an Interpol red notice issued by Monaco for charges of corruption and bribery.

At this time, we have no evidence that the arrest is linked to Mr Taylor’s whistleblowing on corruption at SBM Offshore. However, Mr Taylor has alleged that the arrest is linked to his whistleblowing activities. On 3 October, the Croatian extrajudicial council issued its decision to extradite Mr Taylor to Monaco. Mr Taylor has been on bail since 4 August.

Mr Taylor appealed against his extradition to the Croatian Supreme Court, which has advised that the UK should first be asked if it wanted to extradite Mr Taylor as a UK national. We understand that the Crown Prosecution Service has advised that it has no outstanding case against Mr Taylor. Therefore, the UK has notified the Croatian authorities that we are not seeking to extradite him. The Croatian court will now reconsider the issue.

We are following the progress of Mr Taylor’s appeal very closely and will continue to do so. We have approached the Monégasque prosecutor’s office to request the details of the specific charges against Jonathan Taylor. We have also spoken to Mr Taylor’s UK lawyer to understand the grounds on which he is appealing the charges, and we are providing consular support to Mr Taylor. We have stayed in very regular contact with Mr Taylor and sought updates on the case from the Croatian judge.

Consular staff spoke to airport police on 30 July, when Mr Taylor was first arrested. They spoke to Mr Taylor and provided him with a list of local English-speaking lawyers. Staff have spoken to the judge for information on the local legal process and for regular updates on the progress of the case, to the prison social worker to check on Mr Taylor’s welfare, and to the president of the extrajudicial council. They have also spoken to Mr Taylor’s wife.

Since the decision to extradite Mr Taylor, Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office staff have been in contact with Mr Taylor on multiple occasions and have spoken with Judge Djordjo Benussi of the county court in Dubrovnik. If we receive any evidence that Mr Taylor’s arrest is linked to his whistleblowing activities or that due process is not being followed, we will of course consider what further steps we can take to support him. However, it is a requirement of the Vienna convention on consular relations that signatories do not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. We cannot interfere in the legal proceedings of other countries, just as we would not accept similar interference.

I met the right honourable Member for Barking, Dame Margaret Hodge, and a co-chair of the All-Party Group on Anti-Corruption and Responsible Tax on 15 September. More broadly, my right honourable friend may be interested to know that the UK has seconded a senior lawyer to the Interpol task force working to prevent abuse of Interpol systems.”

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development) 1:32 pm, 10th November 2020

My Lords, I listened carefully to the debate yesterday on this Urgent Question. One thing that I hope the noble Baroness will be able to respond on today is the assessment—or whether any assessment has been made by the department—of the evidence presented to Wendy Morton by my right honourable friend Margaret Hodge that both links the case of Mr Taylor’s actions as a whistleblower and shows that due process has not been followed. In light of this evidence, what on earth is preventing the Government making strong representations to the Government of Monaco?

Photo of Baroness Sugg Baroness Sugg Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, at this time we have no evidence that this arrest is linked to Mr Taylor’s whistleblowing on corruption. However, Mr Taylor has alleged that the arrest is linked to the whistleblowing. We will continue to provide consular support and are in regular contact with Mr Taylor. If we receive evidence that Mr Taylor’s arrest is linked to his whistleblowing activities, or that due process is not being followed, we will of course consider what further steps we should take.

Photo of Baroness Kramer Baroness Kramer Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Treasury and Economy)

My Lords, I am shocked by the line in the Government’s response that says we have no evidence that this arrest is linked to Mr Taylor’s whistleblowing on corruption. Employers retaliate against whistleblowers, not on the grounds of their whistleblowing, but by asserting spurious, contrived and false accusations. By the time the whistleblowers are exonerated—in the UK, often in an employment tribunal dragged out over years—they have been financially ruined, their families scarred and sometimes their mental health compromised. That is how employers and hostile Governments punish whistleblowers and persuade others to keep silent about wrongdoing. I hope the Minister will meet the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Whistleblowing, because we have to change the whole regime to provide genuine protection. Will the Government recognise that this behaviour, captured by this UQ, is classic retaliation against a whistleblower, and will they protect Jonathan Taylor now?

Photo of Baroness Sugg Baroness Sugg Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, of course we must do what we can to protect whistleblowers, and we have done so through the Employment Rights Act and, indeed, the improvements we have made to protect whistleblowers over recent years. I am afraid that in this case in particular, as I said, we have not received specific evidence of this arrest being linked to whistle- blowing, but we will continue to monitor the case very closely and consider any evidence that we receive.

Photo of Lord Wills Lord Wills Labour

My Lords, on the face of it, as we have heard, this is a troubling case. A British citizen has exposed corruption and wrongdoing on a global scale and has taken considerable personal risk to do so. As I understand it, he is still helping regulatory authorities in this country in pursuit of further wrong- doing, yet the British Government are doing nothing to protect him from what appears to be an abuse of Interpol procedures. Will the Minister agree to meet me and colleagues to discuss this case as soon as possible, along with one of her ministerial colleagues from the Home Office, who, I understand, also has an interest in this case?

Photo of Baroness Sugg Baroness Sugg Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I would push back on the assertation that the Government are doing nothing. As I said, we are providing regular support to Mr Taylor: we are in regular contact with him, his family and his legal team. Mr Taylor has appealed against his extradition. We have also approached the Monégasque prosecutor’s office to request more information about the charges against Jonathan Taylor. We will continue to closely monitor this case and take appropriate action.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Independent Labour

My Lords, the Government claim that they cannot interfere in the legal proceedings of another country, which is surprising, since there are recent examples where they have done so—so why in those cases and not this one? Moreover, it is surprising that the Government have not made high-level diplomatic representations to halt the extradition process, given that Mr Taylor has worked with the SFO and other prosecutors around the world, exposing a corruption and bribery scandal at a Monaco-based company, leading to fines amounting to over $800 million. He is continuing to work with the SFO in corruption investigations. Can the Minister tell the House why the Government are refusing to take action to restore Mr Taylor’s human rights, so he can come home, and are thereby failing to support the work of whistleblowers in the global fight against corruption?

Photo of Baroness Sugg Baroness Sugg Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

[Inaudible]—we will continue to support whistleblowers. On this specific case, we need to consider each case on an individual basis and, as set out in the Vienna convention on consular relations, we cannot interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, just as we would not expect similar interference here. However, we will continue to monitor this case closely. The Minister for the European Neighbourhood recently met the co-chairs of the APPG on Anti-Corruption and Responsible Tax. We will continue to stay in contact with Mr Taylor and his legal team, to ensure that we are doing everything we can to help in this case.

Sitting suspended.