Birkenfeld claims he was pushed into the action by the discovery of an internal document at UBS which contradicted the working practices that bankers were engaged in. Birkenfeld interpreted the memo as the bank covering its own back against criminal liability without protecting its staff.
Birkenfeld went to the US authorities “to hold people accountable who were lying to myself, my colleagues, clients and the shareholders of the bank,” he told the Tagesschau programme on Saturday.
“Hopefully Swiss citizens understand that this isn’t targeted at them, it’s targeted at the wrongdoings at the highest echelons of the bank.”
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During the televised interview, Birkenfeld repeated previous claims that he went to the DoJ only after being rebuffed by UBS’s internal whistleblowing scheme. “As a director of the bank with a CHF10 million signature power, I felt it imperative that I brought it to legal and compliance at the bank and ask for an answer. They buried the investigation, there was no investigation,” he said.
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Birkenfeld, who is currently writing a book about his experiences, denied that he was motivated by a dispute with UBS over bonus payments or by a fear that he was about to be implicated in a US tax investigation into one of his former clients.
Despite receiving a $104 million (CHF97 million) reward for his whistleblowing activities by the US authorities, Birkenfeld feels aggrieved at spending 30 months in prison for failing to divulge everything he knew about his work with tax dodgers.
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“At some point I think I’ll visit Switzerland to help some of the people who don’t know me, to understand exactly what I did and why I did it,” he told Tagesschau. “I’m sure there will be some folk who are upset and angry, and a lot of people who understand hopefully that this was the right thing to do and that I helped Switzerland."
“I certainly hope that the Swiss citizens will finally say: 'We are going to hold [UBS] accountable, we want more transparency'.JAT comment: I suppose that the Swiss would think it is a matter of perspective as to whether Birkenfeld helped Switzerland. I don't think the Swiss will be welcoming him back anytime soon or conferring any national medals or accolades on him. Still, the situation that Birkenfeld brought to light was a ticking time bomb. It would have happened even without Birkenfeld, perhaps a few years later. But the Swiss bankers had gotten so brazen in their activities that little secret was going to out, particularly with the award system in the U.S. tax code.