The Malta Independent 16 April 2024, Tuesday
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Anyone appointed by elected officials should publicly disclose worldwide assets – UBS whistleblower

Joanna Demarco Sunday, 26 March 2017, 07:00 Last update: about 8 years ago

Along with Ministers, all individuals appointed by a country's elected officials such as those in positions of trust should, upon being appointed, publicly disclose all their worldwide assets, according to UBS whistleblower Bradley Birkenfeld.

In an interview with The Malta Independent on Sunday, Mr Birkenfeld explained: "By doing so, there will be full transparency and accountability.

"If you (as a person who is appointed by an elected official), have a problem with that, then we, (as the public) will have a problem with what you are doing, because you do not want to come clean," he said, matter-of-factly.


Mr Birkenfeld elaborated that between an elected official of a country and an appointed individual there is a "nexus, a connection", emphasising the importance of transparency as a necessity because of this. "If the individual appointed does not want to do disclose the information," he said, "then they should not be able to run for public office. Every single citizen has a right to know and otherwise you are denying your own right to representation, which is a fundamental right."

Bradley Birkenfeld is an American whistleblower who exposed information to the US government on approximately 19,000 clients which he collected whilst working at UBS bank in Switzerland. The disclosure prompted a fraud investigation on banks that had enabled US taxpayers to evade taxes. This resulted in the release of previously privileged information on American tax evaders and UBS having to pay $780 million, of which Bradley Birkenfeld received a $104 million award from the IRS Whistleblower Office in 2012, the largest such reward in history. He recently moved to Malta, where he is enjoying the history, culture and cuisine and hoping to inspire and help society expose crime and corruption.

Asked what he believes should be done in cases where appointed individuals are linked with an offshore jurisdiction, Mr Birkenfeld suggested an independent third party would need to carry out an audit. "The person in question would need to give the rights to the auditors to audit his companies abroad too," he said. "If he doesn't want to do that, then he cannot hold public office."

With reference to the Panama Papers scandal, when asked if learning that a Minister has an account in an offshore jurisdiction is sufficient reason for the Minister to step down from his or her position, Mr Birkenfeld replied that he did not believe so. "No, you cannot have a knee-jerk reaction: you cannot react blindly. But because the individual is a public servant, you should be able to ask him or her very pointed questions. When you come under the public spotlight as a public servant, unfortunately you become exposed. If you want to run for office and represent all the Maltese people, you have to be clear and clean. Otherwise, you cannot run for office."

Bradley Birkenfeld insisted on the importance of whistleblowers in uncovering crime. "The only way you are going to get rid of fraud and corruption is by having an insider, a whistleblower," he said. "Just look at the cases throughout history, Enron, Madoff, the tobacco industry, Snowden - all whistleblowers. Whistleblowing eradicates the rotten cancer that we do not want in our society and as a result we become a better society."

In the case of whistleblowing in Malta, the Protection of Whistleblowers Act was introduced in 2013, providing procedures that allow whistleblowers to disclose information linked to improper practices by their employers or employees and to protect employees who make such disclosures from detrimental action. Unlike in Mr Birkenfeld's situation, Malta's whistleblowing legislation offers compensation for damages that could result from the whistle-blowing, but does not offer rewards. The type of compensation is not defined by law.

Mr Birkenfeld suggested that one step forward that Malta can take now is to start organising conferences and perhaps establish a whistleblowing non-profit organisation in Malta.

"We need to bring in some pro-active people who want to make a positive change," he said, "with like-minded people coming together to do the same thing as there is strength in numbers." He believes that a whistleblowing, non-profit organisation will need to involve people with different perspectives, people from the private sector and public sector, academics and students.

"Gaining traction will make people realise that they really have to report things, and this is where the Maltese have a voice," he said. "Silence is complicity."

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