Blueprint Whistleblowing Prizes

Blueprint is proud to give recognition of a special contribution to the advancement of whistleblowing to the following people

Ari Danikas (Greece/South Africa)

Ari Danikas was police reserve officer in the Cato Manor unit of the South African police. This unit typically deals with violent crime, including armed robbery, cash in transit robberies, the protection of politicians, kidnapping, drug trafficking, murder investigations and organised criminal gangs. They are an elite unit of the South African Police. Through the publication of a series of videos and public revelations, Danikas revealed that the unit was allegedly engaged in extrajudicial killing, tampering with crime scenes, and the torture of subjects.

In 2012, working with with South Africa’s Sunday Times journalists Stephan Hofstatter and Mzilikazi wa Afrika (and with support from a third journalist, Rob Rose), Danikas had his disclosures published. This followed the initial posting of a series of videos forming part of the disclosure to YouTube in 2009. Following the initial Sunday Times pieces, the trio published a series of stories and produced a documentary with Al Jazeera focusing on the allegations.

Collectively, Danikas’ disclosure and the subsequent series of articles reveal serious allegations against the Cato Manor squad. Over a period of many years, the members of the Cato Manor police squad — based in Durban, South Africa — have allegedly been involved in a number of illegal and unethical practices. These have allegedly included extra-judicial killing, torture, and the ‘setting up’ of crimes where a tip-off was given to the squad in advance of a crime and then the squad ambushed the suspects with over-zealous use of force.

Additionally, the squad was allegedly involved in the tampering of crime scenes by planting weapons, re-arranging corpses, cleaning gunpowder residue and other forensic manipulation. Danikas also documented at least one occasion where a suspect was tortured in police custody. A particularly graphic disclosure was a video in which it appears the officers in the squad shot a suspect and let him bleed to death in a garage.

Blueprint notes that the case is currently underway in South Africa and none of the criminal allegations have yet been determined by the courts despite considerable media coverage of the matter in South Africa. As such, we do not imply the guilt of any party at this time. The allegations brought against the squad must, and should, be dealt with in the South African courts in a transparent manner. Danikas’ evidence will be critical in the trial against members of the squad.

Before the initial publication of the videos as part of his disclosure in 2009, Danikas fled to his native country, Greece, in fear of his life. He is still subjected to threats and intimidation as a result of his disclosure.

Danikas’ disclosure has numerous public interest justifications; primarily, extra-judicial killing by an arm of the state is criminal and offends the basic rights of any citizen of a democracy. It is important for the citizenry to be able to have confidence in the rule of law, and those who enforce it.

This case is an excellent demonstration of a whistleblower and journalists working together to get information from secretive places into the public domain. It also highlights how journalists should be handling sensitive whistleblower sources, by protecting their anonymity, and not abandoning them as soon as the story is published.

Danikas has demonstrated bravery in stepping forward in a dangerous environment to speak out, and should be recognised for his sacrifice.

Višnja Marilović (Bosnia-Herzegovina)

After years of service with the public company Skenderija Centre in her native Bosnia, Višnja Marilović blew the whistle on suspected financial irregularities in the Centre.

In 2011, while working as an accountant with the Centre, Marilović reported irregularities in expense reports submitted by the director of the Centre, Saud Dzindo. Dzindo had submitted an invoice for 160 beds (an irregular order for a sports centre). Dzindo had, however, recently purchased a hotel. Suspicious, Marilović confronted her superior. After nothing was done, Marilović contacted her Cantonal Prosecutor’s Office, leading to months of death threats and abuse directed at Marilović, and eventually to her dismissal.

Skenderija is a state-owned sports and cultural centre, which was responsible for the marketing and promotion of sport and the country’s cultural/historical strengths — two of the country’s biggest assets. The Centre had significant public appeal and relevance, and its marketing and promotions functions were of particular national importance because of the country’s economically moribund environment and high unemployment rate.

Following her report to the Prosecutor’s Office, Marilović was dismissed from her employment with the Skenderija Centre. Before her dismissal, Marilović faced harassment, constant surveillance and sustained reprisals in her work environment. Marilović described that her employer “worked on creating a hostile work environment” for her while many colleagues “completely distanced themselves” from her.

At the time of her dismissal, Bosnia-Herzegovina had no active whistleblower protection law. As a result, Marilović had no protection against the reprisals and abuse directed at her by her superiors. Since her dismissal, in part due to her own efforts, Bosnia-Herzegovina enacted the Law on Whistleblower Protection in the Institutions of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Furthermore, as a result of Marilović’s whistleblowing, in January 2015 a cantonal court indicted Marilović’s superior, Saud Dzindo, with economic crimes valued over USD$750,000.

In April 2016 a court of first instance found Dzinko guilty of these charges. He was sentenced to just two years probation. The Prosecution intends to appeal this penalty.

As a result of her disclosures, Marilović lived a life under constant siege of threats and intimidation. Marilović said her son did not understand why he could not play on the playground after school the way other children did — she had to take him home and be inside because it was too dangerous to him to play outside for fear of retribution. She continues to receive threats and lives under police protection.

Marilović’s case is one of many South-Eastern European cases, that have sparked the call for further whistleblower protection laws. Serbia and Bosnia are two countries that have very recently introduced whistleblower protection laws.

The region itself has long been mired in corruption and the increasing number of whistleblowers coming forward is a sign that the people of these countries no longer want to tolerate this way of doing business. Marilović’s case has an important public interest element in its own right, but it is also a ‘lighthouse’ for other whistleblowers and thus contributes powerfully to positive change.

Marilović is a role-model; she continues to be involved with numerous organisations concerned with whistleblowing. Marilović is now a prominent advocate for whistleblower protection in Bosnia, having been involved in the drafting of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Law on Whistleblower Protection in the Institutions of Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as being the head of the Bosnian Whistleblower’s Association and involved with the Center for Responsible Democracy LUNA.

Howard Shaw (UK)

A distinguished and unblemished member of the MET (the UK police), Howard Shaw served for 30 years, with 15 years of his service at the Scotland Yard Fraud Squad. Throughout his career, Shaw received numerous commendations and awards, including from the judiciary. Shaw was the first whistleblower to successfully bring a whistleblowing detriment employment tribunal case against the MET.

In 2008, Shaw blew the whistle about three separate instances of wrongdoing. He disclosed that a work experience intern was appointed to a sensitive area that required stringent security checks. Shaw pointed out that the appointment was nepotistic. He disclosed that an external consultant was improperly appointed, allegedly due to the consultant’s friendship with a Deputy Assistant Commissioner. The consultant was paid at a significantly higher rate than the prevailing rate for such work. Shaw also blew the whistle on a Detective Inspector, for inappropriately accessing the MET’s computer system to gain access to interview questions for a role the inspector was applying for at the PCeU (the UK’s Police Central e-Crime Unit). This essentially amounted to cheating on a test essential for career progression.

Shaw’s disclosure was in the public interest for a number of reasons. Most significantly, his role was in counter-fraud and he exposed at least three types of corrupt and fraudulent behaviour in the unit responsible, in part, for the prevention of such digressions. The police should be held to a higher standard than the general public as they have extensive powers of the State, and those within the police who are charged with countering dishonesty and fraud should be held to an even higher standard. Shaw’s disclosure ensured that this was the case.

Shaw suffered significant retaliation as a result of his disclosures. Shaw was dismissed, just two years out from retirement, for an unrelated claim made against him — a claim subsequently found to have been falsified. He took his case to the UK’s Employment Tribunal and succeeded after a two year series of contested hearings. The Tribunal found that senior officers had lied in testimony and conspired to destroy Shaw’s career.

Although Shaw was suspended with pay, he suffered considerable isolation and felt desolate. Shaw borrowed money, secured against his house, to pay his lawyer. His final legal bill amounted to £25,000. Shaw suffered for six months with stress related illness and was ostracised by his peers. Had he been sacked, or resigned, Shaw would have forfeited 28 years of pension savings. Living in crisis 24 hours a day and constantly discussing the situation put his relationship with his partner under severe strain. The desperate nature of the situation, and his resultant suffering, was all consuming and Shaw was unable protect his children from the negative personal fallout of his public interest disclosures.

As stated above, Shaw’s case was the first successful whistleblowing detriment employment tribunal case against the MET. He has become a role model for those speaking truth to power. In doing so, Shaw risked his career, his family, and his financial and personal wellbeing.

Witness K (Australia / Timor Leste)

Witness K is a former senior Australian foreign intelligence officer with ASIS (Australian Secret Intelligence Service). In 2004, Witness K refused to be involved in an ASIS operation to ‘bug’ the cabinet rooms of Timor Leste during negotiations for a proposed Oil and Gas treaty between Timor Leste and Australia (the Treaty), said to be worth an estimated AUD$40 billion.

Timor Leste is one of the poorest countries in this region, and its oil/gas resources are its only source of wealth. Timor Leste has a long history with Australia, having defended and hidden Australian soldiers in WWII in repeated acts of bravery. This unwavering loyalty cost many hundreds of Timorese lives. Public attitudes in Australia toward Timor Leste (‘East Timor’) are sympathetic.

The Treaty was to substantially benefit an Australian company, Woodside. Witness K determined that the operation’s main purpose was to manipulate those negotiations by providing an unfair advantage to Woodside.

Subsequent to his refusal to participate, K was denied promotional opportunities and considered his career to be ‘effectively over’. He left the service.

In 2012, when the operation was exposed, Timor Leste demanded an explanation of the Australian Government. It also commenced international arbitration proceedings in The Hague on the grounds that the Treaty was signed on an improper basis due to the spying operation. Witness K was prepared to become a key witness for Timor Leste.

After it had become clear that K was to testify, ASIO (the Australian domestic spy agency) raided his home, and his lawyer’s offices and confiscated his passport, preventing him from travelling to give evidence at The Hague.

In addition to the raids, criminal proceedings have been threatened against him and the case is ongoing. Witness K’s bravery in standing up to secret and powerful forces demonstrated his strong moral compass in the performance of his duties. In light of the growing demand for further and increased power to intelligence agencies, Witness K’s disclosure in the public interest sheds light on sometimes murky and questionable conduct of espionage which may be at odds with a citizenry’s own values.