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Corruption whistleblower settles employment case against the Foreign Office

A prosecutor who raised concerns of serious corruption while working for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) in Kosovo has agreed a settlement of over £400,000 following her dismissal in late 2014. The settlement to the claims against the FCDO was made with no admission of liability.

Qualified Barrister Maria Bamieh was due to have her case heard by the Employment Tribunal in May and June this year, but the settlement was agreed before the hearing. In her claims she had argued that the FCDO, as her employer, completely failed to provide any support for her from the point at which she became vulnerable as a whistleblower in Kosovo while working for the EU’s Rule of Law Mission called EULEX. She argued in her case that this failure to support and intervene led to the termination of employment in late 2014.

Maria, 63, was working in Kosovo as an international prosecutor for EULEX when she first raised concerns about serious judicial corruption with her bosses both in EULEX and the FCDO in mid 2012. She argued in her legal case that soon after she was subjected to inappropriate and oppressive bullying and management within EULEX.

Maria had been working in Kosovo for the FCDO since 2008. Before that she worked for the Crown Prosecution Service for 16 years as a senior prosecutor. From 2010 Maria worked in the Special Prosecution of Office of the Republic of Kosovo (SPRK) within EULEX where she headed prosecutions in Financial Crime.

In 2012 Maria became aware of some information which led her to believe there may have been serious judicial corruption taking place within EULEX. Maria reported this concern upwards through the Head of SPRK to the EULEX Head of Justice in an official written report in June 2012. She also made a report of her concerns to the FCDO’s UK contingent leader as well as the UK Ambassador. She felt that nothing was subsequently done independently by the FCDO to support her in response to her reported concerns.

The following year Maria was subject to disciplinary proceedings for the facilitation of work experience opportunities and car parking violations. She felt this disciplinary action was suspicious in view of the low-level nature of the alleged infractions and by comparison with how others had been treated in similar circumstances. The work experience allegations were dropped but the car parking procedure breach resulted in a warning. Maria made representations to the FCDO that she felt the action had been directly connected to her continuing to raise concerns that the corruption allegations had not been addressed but the FCDO said it would not intervene supportively to challenge the disciplinary treatment or process.

Due to this, in August 2013 Maria lodged a grievance through EULEX and copied this to the FCDO. Later that year EULEX did start looking into the 2012 corruption allegations following concerns raised in other parts of the organisation and spoke to Maria about the information she had uncovered. The FCDO decided, despite Maria’s expression of concern and objections, that it should enforce the warning sanction relating to the car parking issue.

In June 2014 it was announced that FCDO would be reducing its number of prosecutors in EULEX. This was done through a scoring exercise overseen by EULEX with the intention that those seconded by the FCDO (including Maria) who scored lowest in EULEX’s procedure would be removed. This exercise was overseen by the same senior management in EULEX about whom Maria had reported concerns about possible corruption in mid-2012.

Maria, one of the most experienced and respected prosecutors, was marked 22 out of 25 candidates by EULEX, ensuring that she would be removed by the FCDO. Maria reported her concerns about the fairness of the selection exercise to the FCDO, who in turn chose instead to issue notices of withdrawal to the entire FCDO contingent of prosecutors so that each, including Maria, would need to be reselected to remain in EULEX. In the subsequent reselection exercise, however, Maria’s interview was overseen by a panel of external EU interviewers who were closely connected through national and professional affiliation to those about whom the corruption complaints had been made in 2012 . Maria believed that the questions fielded in her reselection interview were hostile and omitted any possibility of assessing her suitability based on her very extensive criminal law prosecutorial experience in Kosovo. In consequence Maria was told that she had not been reselected to remain in EULEX and was served with notice of termination from November 2014.

In October 2014, during Maria’s notice period, the Kosovan media reported on the substance of the 2012 corruption concerns and Maria was accused of being the source of this information and suspended. She denied leaking the information and no evidence was ever presented that the information in the media at that time came from her.  Later that month, after being suspended and receiving no support from the FCDO, Maria decided to speak to the media herself to raise her concerns as she believed they were not being taken seriously by EULEX or the FCDO.

Eventually there was an internal independent EULEX police investigation into the 2012 corruption allegations that Maria raised, which was discontinued in 2015 before any findings were made about the concerns. There had also been  an external investigation, commissioned by the European Parliament, which found in 2015 that Maria’s complaints had not been handled inappropriately by EULEX in the context of whistleblowing .

Maria lodged claims in the London Central Employment Tribunal on the 6th March 2015 against EULEX , the FCDO and a range of individuals employed at EULEX  who had been involved in the mistreatment to which she had been allegedly subjected before her termination. Her claims included unfair dismissal and detrimental treatment on the grounds of having made protected disclosures (whistleblowing).

In June 2016 the Employment Tribunal struck out the claims against all respondents other than the FCDO as Maria’s employer in contract. A subsequent appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) resulted, in January 2018, in the reversal of the strike-out decision in respect of the claims against the two individual respondents who were employees of the FCDO like Maria.

On appeal to the Court of Appeal, in its judgment of the 9th May 2019, the strike-out against those two individual respondents was restored, which left Maria solely with her claim against the FCDO as her employer.

Leigh Day began acting for Maria in August 2021 in her remitted claim solely against the FCDO  in the Employment Tribunal at London Central. The substantive claims had been scheduled for an 11-day hearing between the 30th May and the 16th June 2022 but the proceedings were settled without any admission of liability on the part of the FCDO in May 2022 with a gross payment to Maria of £422,921.14.

Maria said:

“I believe that I should have been commended and supported by the FCDO for raising my concerns about possible corruption within EULEX and the treatment I suffered afterwards,  but instead I felt abandoned by them. Without the bravery of whistleblowers, or a supportive culture to empower them,  wrongdoing can go unchecked and hide in the shadows. I am pleased that after years of dispute I was able to bring a legal case against the FCDO, as my employer, and that the case has finally settled.”

Mike Cain, partner at law firm Leigh Day, added:

“The protection of whistleblowers is crucial for a fair and functioning democratic society. It helps weed out corruption, prevent danger and stem illegality by ensuring that those that uncover information within their organisations are protected from retaliation. This is all the more the case in spaces where public power is being exercised as it was when our client formed and reported her concerns both in Kosovo and to senior figures within the FCDO. I am pleased that after a decade of litigation we have been able to settle our client’s case with the FCDO.”

Maria was represented in the Employment Tribunal by employment partner Mike Cain from Leigh Day and Jeffrey Jupp and Joshua Yetman  of 7 Bedford Row.

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