Sunday, January 3, 2010

More on Birkenfeld - 60 Minutes Segment

CBS 60 Minutes had a segment this evening on Bradley Birkenfeld here.

This is basically more of the same, but one interesting aspect is that Birkenfeld's attorney's claim that Birkenfeld's prosecution, conviction and sentencing sends the wrong message to others deep in the bowels of the Swiss banking system.  Instead of prosecuting, convicting and imprisoning Birkenfeld, so the claim goes, he should be rewarded.  But, after all, Birkenfeld did commit crimes, and he did not really come fully clean.

According the the DOJ official interviewed, Birkenfeld probably would not have been prosecuted had he come clean about his own nefarious activity.  The message to others in the bowels of the Swiss banking system (and there are many of them) is that you can come to the U.S., avoid prosecution in the U.S. by coming clean, and perhaps get in line for whistelblower rewards that can make you rich and thus assuage your self-imposed exile from Switzerland.

That is good news for potential whistleblowers and bad news for those persons who, so far, have not done a voluntary disclosure with the IRS.  And, of the course, the other bad news for those not doing a voluntary disclosure with the IRS is that the settlement with UBS, although perhaps only half a loaf (or less) with UBS, can still prove to be half a loaf (or less) for the many other banks in Switzerland (it is an interpretation of the treaty whose language is hardly UBS-specific).  Half a loaf (or less) across the system is certainly better than nothing. 

And the damage to the sophisticated piracy we call the Swiss banking system is probably irreparable, although it still has some life in it because all sorts of rogues, villains, despots, mobsters, desparados, corrupt officials, sheiks and other accidents of birth, and others may have few attractive alternatives.  But, once the tax dam is breached, they too have to know the secrecy they value and for which they pay the Swiss dearly may not be as impenetrable as they imagined it was before.

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