Brad Birkenfeld

UBS Whistleblower Takes Battle to Banks

brad birkenfeld_Thomas Dashuber for Handelsblatt
Former UBS banker Brad Birkenfeld spent more than two years in jail for helping clients avoid paying taxes.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Brad Birkenfeld shook up Switzerland’s bank secrecy system and enabled the tax authorities to recoup billions of dollars.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Mr. Birkenfeld blew the whistle on UBS after helping its U.S. clients to evade taxes.
    • He spent two-and-a-half years in a U.S. prison for abetment to tax evasion.
    • But the U.S. Internal Revenue Service paid him a record reward of $104 million (€95.5 million) for his inside information.
  • Audio

    Audio

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Brad Birkenfeld doesn’t mince his words. “The U.S. Justice Department is pathetic. If the Olympics were giving awards for corruption, it would win gold, silver and bronze. No joke!”

He should know. The former UBS banker-turned-whistleblower dealt a stinging blow to legendary Swiss bank secrecy after uncovering a huge tax fraud, and ultimately forced the re-writing of the country’s banking rules.

His job at UBS had been to attract wealthy customers in the U.S., who were then assisted in tax evasion using Swiss bank secrecy rules. But after growing uneasy about the practices, he went to the U.S. authorities. His insider information led to massive fines being imposed on several Swiss banks.

For Mr. Birkenfeld, there were benefits and costs. He spent two-and-a-half years in prison for abetment to tax evasion followed by three years on parole. But then came the reward: In 2012 the U.S. Internal Revenue Service paid him a record $104 million (€95.5 million) for blowing the whistle on dodgy bank practices.

Mr. Birkenfeld could have retired and enjoyed the high life. But the American evidently didn’t feel like spending his days on the golf course. Instead, he now plans to strike back at those he feels betrayed him. His mission? To protect other whistleblowers and spare them what he had to go through.

His job now is to advise governments on combating illegal offshore deals and support other whistleblowers with advice and money.

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