Blowing the whistle on fraud helps protect the greater good. As such, whistleblower rewards and protections extend past national borders. Foreign citizens, US residents abroad, and even those in the US illegally can report fraud or corruption and still qualify for US whistleblower protections and the possibility of receiving a financial reward.
If you have information about fraud, there are several US laws and programs that may apply to your situation. Connect with an experienced qui tam law firm to understand the full scope of the laws, as well as what evidence you will need to provide in your claim. You may be able to receive international whistleblower protection as well as a substantial financial payout in exchange for your honesty.
Common Types of International Whistleblower Cases
The following represent some of the most common types of international whistleblower cases:
Non-U.S. Whistleblower Laws
International whistleblowers can provide some of the most valuable information about fraud against the US government. The United States is currently a world leader in anti-fraud law and provides some of the strongest protections to whistleblowers and those who speak out about corruption. While over 59 countries worldwide currently offer whistleblower protections that have been codified into law, those backed by US statutes remain some of the most expansive.
In some countries, whistleblower protections are only afforded to certain kinds of fraud reporting, or are subject to limitations. In other areas, whistleblower law may be sporadically enforced, or apply only to employees in the public sector. However, certain international organizations, such as the European Union, have implemented requirements like the EU Whistleblower Directive that have encouraged whistleblower rights, privileges, and protections to be expanded across borders. Similarly, in 2003, the UN adopted the Convention Against Corruption, which was signed by 140 nations and formally ratified by 137 of its signatories.
The following countries have active whistleblower laws on the books:
- Czech Republic
- New Zealand
- Republic of Korea
- South Africa
- South Korea
- United States
- United Kingdom
UN Convention Against Corruption
Corruption is a global problem that requires global solutions. The UN Convention Against Corruption is a legally binding document that applies across international borders for those nations that have ratified and adopted it.
- Article 32: This section of the Convention addresses the protection of witnesses, experts, and victims. State parties must take appropriate steps to protect those who testify against corruption and fraud. In addition, relatives and those close to those who present evidence are eligible to receive protection against retaliation or intimidation.
- Article 33: Article 33 of the Convention says that State Parties must consider incorporating into their own domestic laws protection for whistleblowers and those who report in good faith any violations of the Convention.
U.S Laws that Protect and Reward Foreign Whistleblowers
The following are US laws that protect and reward whistleblowers, no matter their country of origin:
- False Claims Act (FCA): The False Claims Act protects anyone who reports fraud from employer retaliation and offers anywhere from 15 to 30% of the overall amount recovered in fraud cases to whistleblowers who contribute unique, useful information that aids in the settlement.
- Dodd-Frank Act: Section 922 of the Dodd-Frank Act created a mandatory reward structure for whistleblowers who have useful information on banking or financial fraud and predatory lending practices. Whistleblowers under the Dodd-Frank Act may receive 10 to 30% of the overall amount recovered in a successful case.
- Internal Revenue Act: Section 7623 mandates awards for whistleblowers who report on tax non-payment or under-payment. A tax fraud whistleblower may receive anywhere from 15 to 30% of the overall recovery, depending on the extent of their cooperation and usefulness of their information.
- Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA): Whistleblowers who report under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act are entitled to a reward of 10 to 30% of the total sanctions collected by the US government. Violations of the FCPA include the payment of bribes to foreign government officials by US companies or individuals.
- Lacey Act: International and domestic wildlife crimes and illegally sourced paper products can be reported under the Lacey Act. The law currently protects a wide range of animals as well as plant life from poaching, over-hunting, illegal trade, and certain logging practices. The Lacey Act does not mandate a minimum or maximum amount that can be awarded to a whistleblower.
- Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS): The APPS has led to some of the largest payouts to international whistleblowers to date. Whistleblowers who report on violations of the act may receive up to one half of collected fines or civil penalties. Common violations of the APPS involve dumping sludge, oil-based pollutants, non-filtered oil byproducts, and more into the water instead of following safe disposal practices ashore. Other violations may involve tampering with filtration systems or alarms, as well as keeping false records of oil discharges.
- The Endangered Species Act: In order to protect and conserve endangered species, the Endangered Species Act offers rewards to whistleblowers who report on threats to their well-being and existence. The US Secretary of Agriculture, Commerce, Interior, and Treasury is authorized to grant rewards, as well as set the amount of the reward, for information about violations that occur within the scope of US jurisdiction.
U.S. Whistleblower Programs that Award Non-U.S Whistleblowers
- CFTC Whistleblower Program: Since its first award in 2014, the CFTC Whistleblower Program has paid out over $330 million to whistleblowers and collected more than $3 billion in relief. Whistleblowers may be able to report violations of the Commodity Exchange Act anonymously, as long as they are represented by legal counsel.
- SEC Whistleblower Program: Ponzi schemes, pyramid schemes, late day trading, and other kinds of securities fraud may be reported under the SEC Whistleblower Program. SEC whistleblowers can receive anywhere from 10 to 30% of the funds recovered in a successful case.
- IRS Whistleblower Program: If you have information about US tax evasion or fraud in an amount that exceeds $2 million regarding a US citizen whose income exceeds $200,000 for at least one taxable year during the period of reporting, you may qualify for a reward under the IRS Whistleblower Program.
Non-U.S Whistleblower Cases and Awards
While most international whistleblowers remain anonymous, they may choose to self-disclose their identities, or be represented by US law firms that build their cases alongside them and represent their interests in court.
The following are some of the largest whistleblower payouts awarded in fraud cases involving international actors:
- In 2012, Bradley C. Birkenfeld was awarded one of the highest whistleblower payouts ever made following an IRS investigation of tax evasion involving American accounts kept overseas in Swiss bank, UBS. The award came to $104 million, in exchange for information about how the Swiss banking system concealed American tax underpayments. Additionally, UBS paid $780 million in the settlement in order to avoid criminal prosecution, and even offered up account information for over 4,500 of its American clients. Finally, over 14,000 wealthy Americans joined an IRS amnesty program that recovered more than $5 billion in unpaid taxes in the immediate aftermath of UBS settlement.
- The Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS) has also garnered enormous whistleblower payouts while fighting pollution in the world’s waterways. In the landmark case, USA v. Overseas Shipholding Group Inc, a group of whistleblowers from the Philippines were awarded $5.25 million for their help reporting ocean pollution. OSG vessels were found to have deliberately discharged oil-ridden sludge, concealed their actions by keeping false Oil Record Books, and tampered with gear that would have detected the spills. The false records were shown to the US Coast Guard when the ships made port in US areas. The total $37 million penalty is the largest currently recorded criminal penalty for deliberate vessel pollution.
- In September of 2018, the SEC Whistleblower Program awarded $4 million to an international whistleblower in recognition of their help with an enforcement action. “Whistleblowers, whether they are located in the U.S. or abroad, provide a valuable service to investors and help us stop wrongdoing,” said Jane Norberg, Chief of the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower. The rest of the details about the recipient of the payout were kept secure, as SEC reporting is anonymous.
International Whistleblower Protections: FAQ’s
Here are some frequently asked questions about the scope of whistleblower protection that US law provides, as well as how foreign citizens may be eligible to receive it:
1. Can a foreign whistleblower be granted political asylum in the US?
International whistleblowers can be considered a protected class eligible for political asylum in the US under certain circumstances. If a whistleblower faces persecution, political or otherwise, from their home nation, they may apply for asylum in the United States.
2. As a non-US citizen, am I protected from whistleblower retaliation?
US citizens who work abroad for US public companies or subsidiaries of those companies may be eligible for protections under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. However, non-US citizens may not be able to qualify for certain US whistleblower protections, such as the ability to sue for reinstatement and backpay, as their companies are not governed by US law.
3. How does the UN protect international whistleblowers?
The 2003 Convention Against Corruption mandates that whistleblowers, as well as experts and witnesses, be protected against intimidation and harassment due to their disclosure. Family and relatives of whistleblowers are also protected under Article 32 of the Convention. Article 33 codifies these protections under domestic law of the signatory country.
4. Are non-U.S citizens treated equally when it comes to whistleblower reward programs?
Non-US citizens are treated equally as US citizens when it comes to receiving percentages of settlements in fraud cases. Reporting on fraud does good for everyone, regardless of the whistleblower’s nationality. Non-US citizens are eligible to receive the highest percentage of a reward possible, traditionally up to 30%, in cases involving the False Claims Act, the SEC Whistleblower Program, the Dodd-Frank Act, and more. In cases involving international pollution governed by APPS, the Endangered Species Act, or the Lacey Act, the percentage of the overall settlement received by the whistleblower may be even higher than the 30% cap set under certain areas of qui tam law.
5. Can I remain anonymous as a whistleblower if I am not an American Citizen?
Yes, you can remain anonymous as a whistleblower, regardless of your citizenship. However, if you wish to report anonymously, you must be represented by a qualified international whistleblower attorney. The qui tam firm will file your claim under their name in the United States and liaise with the appropriate government offices. If the US government declines to pursue an investigation about your case, you may still be able to file a qui tam lawsuit through the firm that represents your interests, as well as collect on a possible reward in the event of a successful settlement.
If you report anonymously, your identity will be protected to the fullest extent of US law, including from Freedom of Information Act requests. In addition, certain programs, such as the SEC Whistleblower Program, as well as the CFTC Whistleblower Program, are designed to both accommodate and incentivize anonymous reporting as a way to minimize the threat of possible retaliation.
Talk to a Qui Tam Attorney about US Whistleblower Protections
If you suspect you may be able to become a whistleblower under US or international law, contact the experts at Tycko & Zavareei LLP. Our experienced qui tam team is made up of former US Department of Justice officials, attorneys from elite international law firms, and some of the top graduates of US law schools. We are ready to represent you through this particularly complex area of US and international law, while safeguarding your best interests as a whistleblower along the way. A consultation about the facts of your case is free and confidential.