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Whistleblowers in 'LuxLeaks' trial could face jail time

A month before the verdict is due in the LuxLeaks trial, the prosecution has laid out its case for jail time for the whistleblowers. Critics say the case has let corporations who avoided paying taxes off the hook.

A prosecutor asked a Luxembourg court on Tuesday to sentence two whistleblowers to 18 months in prison for giving a journalist information showing that the small European country gave massive tax breaks to large international firms.

He also called for the court to fine the journalist who received the documents.

French journalist Edouard Perrin arrives at the court for the start of the LuxLeaks trial in Luxembourg

Perrin arrives at court for LuxLeaks trial

In the so-called LuxLeaks scandal two former employees of the international auditing company, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), are charged with leaking thousands of documents to French TV journalist Edouard Perrin.

The documents show that many wealthy international conglomerates, including Apple, IKEA, Pepsi, Deutsche Bank

and McDonalds got huge tax breaks

, worth billions of euros, for their respective entities in Luxembourg.

The charges against the whistleblowers

, Frenchmen Antoine Deltour and Raphael Halet; both former employees of PwC, include stealing documents, revealing business secrets and violation of professional secrets.

Perrin is charged with acting as an accomplice in those crimes. He faces an undisclosed fine.

Deputy state prosecutor David Lentz could have sought 10-year court sentences for the accused, but that would have run counter to a groundswell of public support for the suspects. Lent, in his

closing arguments, which came two weeks after the trial began,

suggested the prosecution was more about upholding the letter of the law, rather than punishing people for any actual harm done to society.

"Deltour and Halet are not really whistleblowers, and Perrin has broken the law," Lentz told the court as he summed up the prosecution's case.

Delivering justice

"We are here to deliver justice," he said. "They must be judged on what they did, this trial has to take place. It's disagreeable, but my job is to protect society against all abuse of the law."

Still, rights groups say the three are being unfairly prosecuted.

The LuxLeaks scandal, which burst onto the world stage in November 2014, included a cache of 30,000 pages that exposed "sweetheart" deals that saved the companies billions of dollars in taxes.

The case is a potential embarrassment for Jean-Claude Juncker. The current president of the European Commission was Prime Minister of Luxembourg from 1995 to 2013.

EU lawmakers have faced pressure to close such loopholes.

At the time, the LuxLeaks file dump was the biggest of its kind; until last month's publication of the Panama Papers. These documents revealed ties between international leaders and offshore shell companies that can be used to launder money.

At the start of the trial in late April, French Finance Minister Michel Sapin expressed "solidarity" with the whistleblowers, saying they, and in particular Deltour, were defending the public interest.

"It's thanks to him that we've been able to put an end to the opacity that prevented European countries from fully knowing the tax status of a number of large companies in Luxembourg," Sapin told lawmakers in the National Assembly.

A trial verdict is expected in mid-June.

bik/kms (AFP, Reuters)

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