The Malta Independent 26 May 2019, Sunday

Lucifer’s Banker: Puncturing bank secrecy

Noel Grima Tuesday, 23 April 2019, 13:18 Last update: about 2 months ago

Author: Bradley C. Birkenhead. Publisher: Greenleaf 2016. Extent: 319pp

Bradley Birkenhead had it all. As a private banker working for the world's largest bank, UBS, Birkenhead was an expert in Switzerland's shell game of offshore companies and secret numbered accounts.

He courted high-net worth clients whose millions of dollars were hidden from business partners, spouses and tax authorities.

His incredible success brought him a lot of money, fast cars and beautiful women.

But when he discovered that UBS was planning to betray him, and his colleagues, he blew the whistle to the US government.

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But the Department of Justice scorned his unprecedented whistle-blowing and attempted to silence him with a charge of conspiracy. It is not the first time that a whistle-blower finds himself accused.

Birkenhead, however, would not be intimidated and he went on the attack - he took his extensive secrets to the US Senate, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Internal Revenue Service where he prevailed. His bombshell revelations helped the US Treasury recover over $15 billion from American tax cheats.

However, the Department of Justice continued to pursue him. As a result, he was arrested and served 30 months in a federal prison.

The end of the story is a victory for justice - when he emerged, the Internal Revenue Service gave him a whistle-blower award for $104 million, the largest such payout in history.

Single-handedly, Bradley exposed the largest tax fraud scheme in history and shattered the secret traditions of Swiss banking with his whistle-blowing, despite the Department of Justice out to scapegoat and silence him.

As Birkenhead tells the thrilling story of how he single-handedly destroyed the secretive traditions of the Swiss banking system, he delivers a powerful page-turner you will never forget.

It is not just a story of a man against the system but also a story with many culprits and very few heroes. Nor is it a one-sided story: at one point, Bradley discovers that UBS has friends at very high places. And all of a sudden, Hilary Clinton, then Secretary of State, visited Switzerland and had talks with her Swiss counterpart - some US citizens were unmasked but others got free. Bill Clinton got some very pricey speaking contracts after that - but that of course has nothing to do with it.

Reading it in Malta, with all the polemics about banking secrecy and whistle-blowers, one can come to the conclusion that tutto il mondo e un paese. Yet, here and there, personal courage may outweigh huge systemic pressures.


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