The schemes hide money, sometimes ill-gotten, and thus may hurt the criminals' spouses, business colleagues, fellow citizens, and governments.
Birkenfeld, 51, helped American authorities recover an estimated $15 billion in back taxes, interest and penalties from wealthy tax cheats who worked with his former employer, UBS, the world's largest bank. UBS is at the center of Switzerland's notoriously secretive system that helped the wealthy duck debtors and facilitate crime that includes drug and arms trafficking.
Lucifer’s Banker memoir, subtitled The Untold Story of How I Destroyed Swiss Bank Secrecy, is an engaging, important and otherwise compelling overview of his unique, courageous role in exposing and reforming Switzerland's system of secret banking for the world's mega-rich.
Update: JIP's editor discussed this column on Oct. 25 during an hour-long edition of The Phil Mikan Show simulcast on WLIS-AM and WMRD-AM in Connecticut, and streaming worldwide. A major point was that the topic was not simply important but interesting -- and that true reform will never occur until the public becomes engaged in how seemingly far-away issues directly affect personal quality of life, such as when criminals hide assets from employees, business colleagues or spouses, or when narcotics traffickers destroying communities hide their money overseas.
Birkenfeld says he outlined to authorities precisely how they could have obtained the names and other records of all 19,000 of the UBS customers availing themselves of secret accounts. Also, he told prosecutors how they could capture all UBS bankers entering the United States on phony customs declarations, thereby enabling prosecutors to squeeze the bankers to cooperate in criminal cases against the tax cheats and foster reform through such additional avenues as Senate oversight hearings.
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As a result, he could afford to hire Washington's best lawyers when he decided to report his superiors in 2005. He discovered via an unannounced memo buried deep in the UBS intranet system that his higher-ups were planning to scapegoat lower-level personnel if foreign authorities, such as those in the United States, ever discovered that a major component of the bank's operations was sales of financial tools to clients who wanted to violate their national law.
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- The Department's go-slow posture against major wrongdoers;
- Refusal to grant the immunity he felt he needed to provide all the documents he had bravely secured in violation of Swiss law;
- Indictment and imprisonment of him when it failed to imprison any of the banking higher-ups or their clients who had actually implemented the tax avoidance;
- Repeated smears of Birkenfeld as motivated by reward money when congress had not even passed the legislation creating an IRS reward system he approached the DOJ;
- Repeated claim of credit for the investigation when it would not have started or finished without his massive documentation, conveyed in significant part to the Senate under its grant of immunity that DOJ declined to recognise.
|Andrew Kreig, Esq.|