Interview with Douglas Linares Flinto about Ethics, Whistleblowers and his Brazilian Business Ethics Institute.
On March 17th of 2016, Andrea Greco and Giuseppe Oddo launched the book «The Parallel State: The first investigation on Eni». Andrea Greco is an economics journalist for the Italian journal La Repubblica (The Republic).
Part of the book is the fight story of my Linkedin friend Douglas Linares Flinto, Chairman & CEO of Brazilian Business Ethics Institute against Eni, for nearly 15 years.
Eni S.p.A. is an Italian multinational oil and gas company headquartered in Rome. It has operations in 79 countries, and is currently world’s 11th largest industrial company with a market capitalization of 68 billion euros (Source: Wikipedia).
History is full of wonderful stories retelling the story of David versus Goliath. What happens to David if Goliath fights back?
Our world is run by those who say yes and repeat it endlessly. Why? They are part of companies. They have to feed their families. They are in line. I like companies. I support companies and I know some great leaders. They are the backbone of our society. And they are not above the law.
And there are others, oftentimes journalists who stand up and say no. Why? It is their job. They are paid to find the truth behind the truths.
But here is a man who is not paid by anyone. He is just there and fights for justice. And he is successful. Hear and read his story and perhaps you decide to support Ethics too wherever you live on this wonderful world. Have a nice day. (Hans-Jürgen John, Founder Johntext)
Mr Flinto, could you please summarize to our readers your professional story?
My story begins back in 2001. I was an executive of Eni’s Brazilian subsidiary. Temporarily I took over the main sales management of Agip Brazil. I received complaints of irregularities involving conflicts of interests, internal corruption, fraud, and even emission of «cold invoices».
Please explain to our readers: What are «cold invoices»?
In this case, executives of my team have issued invoices in the name of large companies. But the fuel was sold at the gas stations of accomplices. Therefore the term «cold invoices».
These «cold invoices» ended up in CPI – Parliamentary Inquiry Commission of the State Legislative Assembly of Mato Grosso opening the way for a lawsuit for tax evasion.
You reported this?
Yes, respecting the determinations of Eni’s Code of Ethics, I reported the misconducts and nonconformities with the words and spirit of the code. The company itselfs declares that this is the guideline for all the six-legged dog’s actions.
Sorry that I laugh. But what is a «six-legged dog»?
According to the website of Eni: The official interpretation, given by the Eni Press Office in the 50s, is that the six legs of this imaginary animal was the sum of a car’s four wheels and the two legs of its driver. A kind of modern centaur and an assurance that this mode of transport would reach its best performance through a symbiosis between man and machine.
Okay. Thank you. Please proceed.
I ended up getting fired. They said it happened due to an «administrative and organizational restructuring».
The millionaire scheme I reported had metastasized throughout the company, and in Agip Brazil’s backstage, the top management, in collusion, ran the illegalities and illegal activities practiced in Eni’s Brazilian subsidiary.
So I decided to write to the Board and to the company’s main shareholders, including to the main one, the Italian Government.
Didn’t you sign a contract that you will keep silent about all information concerning your business? This is usual today.
No. I was a former employee following the company’s Code of Ethics.
What happened next?
The resignations at Agip Brazil continued until it reached the commercial management. A few months later, Eni announced to the market the sale of all the Brazilian assets to the state oil company Petrobras, currently involved in the largest corruption scandal in Brazil.
However, no contact was ever made with me. Eni never answered any of my mails. After killing the whistleblower (me) in Brazil, the company tried to do the same thing to me in Italy.
Okay. That was the end of the story. You applied for another job and decided to focus on your life?
No. In 2010, Eni decided to file a civil action in the Court of Rome against me and the Brazilian Business Ethics Institute – an institution I founded in 2003 to promote Ethics in the business and student world – demanding an indemnity of 30 million Euros for damage caused.
Fortunately, in late 2014, the judge ruled Eni’s lawsuit as «groundless». The company didn’t accept my proposal agreement, but preferred to appeal to the sentence.
So there is your word against the word of Eni?
On March 17th of 2016, Andrea Greco, an economics journalist for the Italian journal La Repubblica (The Republic), in a partnership with Giuseppe Oddo, launched the book «The Parallel State: The first investigation on Eni».
These journalists did great investigation research about Eni. They interviewed former employees, experts, politicians and scholars. They narrate in this work that the chief executive of the Italian energy giant is more important than the Minister of Foreign Affairs. The biggest scandals and cases of corruption emerged in Eni.
In a book of this magnitude, there is a chapter dedicated to my country titled as «Bribes and suffering in Brazil». The authors highlight the Brazilian’s biggest corruption scandal involving the state-owned Petrobras as well as the payment of bribes by Saipem (Eni’s subsidiary).
And they write about you in the book?
My story concerning Eni is part of this investigative book. This is a big victory for me.
What impact has this for the whistleblowers of the world?
It is also a victory to all the whistleblowers that are being silenced around the world by companies that don’t respect its own Code of Ethics.
I hope my story can be an example and motivation to other whistleblowers. Ethics should not be regarded to and used as a marketing tool. Unethical companies need to be unmasked to no longer harm its employees and their families.
How has this story changed your life?
I have always imagined I would make my career in the oil market. Now I am driving a civil society organization that promotes such an important and recurring topic, the Ethics. I was dismissed after serving a Code of Ethics. This motivated me to establish an institution to promote Ethics in the student world.
Students of today are the company leaders in future. Since the foundation I work as I have never worked before. I am happy and satisfied. I am sure I am on the right way.
Why are you not entitled to receive a pension?
In Brazil, companies deduct from its employees’ salary a percentage for a retirement. When Agip Brazil dismissed me I could not pay the amounts to the government for my future retirement. Today I am over 50 years old and I will not be entitled to a retirement paid by the government of my country.
How can you say that you have been put in the black list of all the companies operating in your country?
Everyone knows the black list exists. No one proves its existence. It is a veiled subject in the human resources department of companies around the world. I am certain the Eni Group put me on this black list to prevent me to get a new job. Every time a company receives a curriculum vitae it consults this list.
Is your professional story with Agip related to your decision to create the Brazilian Ethics Institute?
Well, Eni turned the employee who tried to protect the company into a participant in the scheme I reported. Would you hire an executive with these qualities? I have, modesty aside, an excellent curriculum. So the only way for me was to found the Brazillian Ethics Insitute and give my qualities a new home and direction.
Do you regret anything?
If I regret anything? No. I would do it all over again. Why? The answer is simple. Ethics is always worth it! And my fight against the Italian giant Eni continues.
Let’s shift to what happens today in Brazil. What is your opinion over the scandal related to Petrobras?
Petrobras and Eni are not formed only by corrupt employees. Most of its employees work with dedication and integrity in both companies. I am sorry that almost no one has the courage to face the illegal actions behind the scenes of the company. The Lava-Jato Operation completed two years of operation and is conducted jointly by United States’ FBI. It is changing all in Brazil.
Today the Brazilian population believes that corruption will not return again. I and the Brazilian Business Ethics Institute believe there will be a significant improvement in the quality of the companies operating in Brazil.
How do you think we can fight corruption in business? Are Codes of Ethics enough?
It is the people who give life to the companies. Companies need to invest in the character of its employees from the janitor to the CEO. The Code of Ethics should be the Highest Law in the company.
The Code of Ethics cannot be a book to meet the requirements of the stakeholders and investors. The Code of Ethics needs to be the bedside book of all the people within the company.
The other side of this coin are the whistleblowers. They are not enemies of the companies. Whistleblowers are protectors of name, reputation and image. Every CEO prefers to take notice of all activities inside his company not from the newspapers but from employees.
Whistleblowers who should protect their companies are scared that their professional career is interrupted and that they loose their retirement.
With the exception of a few countries, such as the United States or England, there are no mechanisms to protect whistleblowers and they continue to be «killed» and «buried» around the world.
That’s the reason why the Brazilian Business Ethics Institute is already working on the creation and the launch of a «Global Platform of Protection to Whistleblowers» which will use the power of the Internet to try and end the number of «serial killer» companies.
Thank you so much for the interview
Instituto Brasileiro de Ética nos Negócios (Brazilian Business Ethics Institute)
Lo Stato parallelo: La prima inchiesta sull’Eni tra politica, servizi segreti, scandali finanziari e nuove guerre. Da Mattei a Renzi
di Andrea Greco (Autore), Giuseppe Oddo (Autore)