Italian Journalists Participate in Round Table with Top Whistleblower Attorney
On June 25, 2019, several Italian journalists met with leading whistleblower attorney Stephen M. Kohn to discuss the effectiveness of U.S. whistleblower reward laws to fight corruption and fraud internationally.
In 2018, the U.S. government recovered over $2.8 billion through its civil fraud program, with whistleblowers directly responsible for over $2.1 billion of these recoveries.
Kohn, a founding partner of Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto and the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Whistleblower Center, started the discussion with an overview of the history of American whistleblower laws, including the effectiveness of programs implemented within the past 30 years.
“If you’re going to implement an effective anti-corruption program, why wouldn’t you use your most powerful weapon?” Kohn asked the group.
Many of the journalists, who were participating in a program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, were interested in the effects of publicity on a whistleblower. “Wouldn’t some whistleblowers be in danger if their name was published in newspapers?” one asked. Kohn explained how, under current whistleblower reward laws, whistleblowers are granted full anonymity and confidentiality.
The journalists were also curious to know whether there are a lot of fake whistleblowers, a trend they expected to be commonplace given the number of monetary awards given out every year. “There’s no such thing,” Kohn said. “Only real evidence of real illegal activity can recover money. It just doesn’t happen.”
Kohn emphasized the importance of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), which contains provisions for whistleblowers who reside outside of the United States to file information about potential FCPA violations confidentially. The financial rewards for reporting bribery and corruption can be substantial for foreign nationals, who are fully protected under the FCPA.
The journalists asked why more countries have not implemented suitable whistleblower laws like the ones the U.S. has. “That’s what I’m asking too!” Kohn exclaimed. He challenged the journalists to urge their government to adopt the proper laws to combat corruption and fraud effectively.
Kohn, who is also the author of The New Whistleblower’s Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Doing What’s Right and Protecting Yourself, noted a recent change in the definition of “whistleblower,” which now includes any “individual” and does not include a need for any relation to a country or citizenship. Furthermore, the new definition includes new provisions for journalists. Anyone who can obtain information and funnel it effectively to the appropriate channels is considered a whistleblower and is therefore protected.