Oil firm whistleblower trapped in Croatian holiday hell

By Guy Delauney
BBC News, Balkans correspondent

Image caption,
A short break to Dubrovnik turned into a nightmare for Jonathan Taylor

In other circumstances, Jonathan Taylor would be living the dream. Who could say no to an extended stay in the ancient city of Dubrovnik, without the hordes of tourists who normally interfere with the experience?

But for the British lawyer-turned-whistleblower, his time on the Croatian coast is more of a Kafkaesque nightmare. He was arrested on arrival in July - and has been stuck in Dubrovnik ever since, while the few other tourists who made it to the city this summer are long gone.

"All the hotels are empty now," he says. "It's like a ghost town."

Mr Taylor believes his involuntary stay in Dubrovnik is the price for exposing corruption in the international oil industry.

He spent nine years working in Monaco for SBM Offshore, a Dutch multinational company that provides services to the offshore oil and gas industry. But in 2012 he blew the whistle on corrupt practices - providing evidence about bribes being offered to government officials in return for lucrative contracts.

SBM Offshore eventually agreed to a then-record $240m (£186m) settlement with the Dutch authorities. It paid a similar sum to settle a case in the US.

And in Brazil, Mr Taylor's evidence contributed to a massive scandal surrounding oil company Petrobras.

Mr Taylor returned to the UK and family life in Southampton with his wife, Cindy, and their three children. But that was rudely interrupted by police acting on an Interpol "red notice" when they arrived in Dubrovnik for a holiday.

Image caption,
Jonathan Taylor and his wife Cindy in happier times (file pic)

Monaco's extradition request - based on allegations of "bribery and corruption" - was quashed by Croatia's Supreme Court last week. But the judgement directed the Dubrovnik court to ask UK authorities for a European Arrest Warrant, which would take precedence over Monaco's request.

Mr Taylor is not facing any charges in the UK. Indeed, he says he is providing evidence to ongoing investigations by the Serious Fraud Office. So that route home would appear to be blocked. But Mr Taylor says he is still hoping for a British intervention.

"They could inform the authorities here that I should be returned home as I am a protected witness and whistleblower, and there are EU laws protecting such people."

For now, Mr Taylor is spending his days walking as much as 10km (six miles) around the deserted Dubrovnik cobbles. Evenings are spent in a bedsit.

Touched by his plight, the hotel he had originally booked for his family had been providing him with breakfast every morning. But now it has closed for the winter.

His wife has at least been able to join her husband this week. But she says the family are desperate to see him back in the UK.

"We are very proud of him. But our lives are in tatters - the children all worry and can't understand why this is happening to us when he's done the right thing. We just want him home."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Low-tax Monaco hosts an SBM Offshore regional centre

Another frustrating factor for the family is that it is unclear exactly why Monaco is seeking Mr Taylor's extradition now.

Allegations of attempted extortion dating back to 2013 from the Monaco authorities were thrown out two years ago, his lawyer Toby Cadman says. However, the reason for Jonathan Taylor's arrest in Dubrovnik was given as allegations of bribery and corruption emanating from Monaco, according to the whistleblower.

Prosecutors in Monte Carlo referred the BBC's enquiries to Monaco police, who said they could not comment.

And SBM Offshore did not respond to enquiries, although they have previously stated they have not influenced the extradition request.

Read more about whistleblowers:

His lawyer says the affair sends a chilling message to whistleblowers.

"You put your life in danger for doing what you consider to be the right thing - and this is the consequence. You will put your entire life at risk, and we will throw you to the wolves. It is going to deter whistleblowers and investigative journalists the world over."

Anti-corruption organisations, including Transparency International, and British MPs Caroline Noakes, Andrew Mitchell and Margaret Hodge have called on the UK government to intervene. But the Foreign Office has told Mr Taylor that it will not interfere with the judicial process in Croatia.

That leaves him facing winter in deserted Dubrovnik - a whistleblower playing an increasingly lonely tune.