The Malta Independent 20 August 2019, Tuesday

Lucifer’s Banker: Puncturing bank secrecy

Noel Grima Tuesday, 23 April 2019, 13:18 Last update: about 5 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.


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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