This morning, whistleblower advocacy groups called for Attorney General Holder to personally consider whether DOJ should be locking up whistleblower Brad Birkenfeld. Birkenfeld took immense professional and personal risks to voluntarily disclose UBS's multi-billion dollar tax fraud conspiracy to law enforcement officials, handing DOJ its case against UBS on a silver platter.
What was Birkenfeld's reward for blowing the whistle? He is facing jail time while his colleagues who did nothing to cooperate have gotten off practically scot-free. Holder should review this case and protect Birkenfeld, lest Holder plans to give up on any possible future financial whistleblowers who will learn that a "whistleblower reward" is a prison jumpsuit.
Today's letter from the National Whistleblower Center (NWC), the Government Accountability Project (GAP) and the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) points out the tragic consequences of DOJ punishing rather than protecting financial whistleblowers and should spur Holder to personally review Birkenfeld's case.
With $5-7 trillion U.S. dollars hidden in offshore accounts causing $100 billion in treasury revenue losses, the harm in sending Birkenfeld to jail is astronomical. Holder ought to pay attention when he reads the consequences the letter points out:
Denying Mr. Birkenfeld whistleblower status, and sending him off to a long prison term, radically undermines the ability of the U.S. government to detect, prosecute and prevent illegal off-shore banking practices. Without exaggeration, on the day Mr. Birkenfeld enters a federal penitentiary, every criminal using offshore secret banks to hide their ill-gotten gain will celebrate. The Department of Justice will, unintentionally, be party to a well-publicized worldwide event that will send a chill down the spine of any international banker who, like Mr. Birkenfeld, feels guilty about the practices they participate in and wants to help stop these insidious practices that undermine the rule of law.
Due to the destructive impact of Mr. Birkenfeld’s sentencing, honest U.S. taxpayers will continue to bear the burden of the $100 billion lost to the Treasury annually because of secret banking. Victims of crimes funded by laundered funds, often funneled through secret banks, will shudder. These secret accounts are used to hide "blood money": money stolen from development projects designed for the most impoverished; bribe money obtained by crooked politicians, undermining the rule of law; profits from illegal arms deals to terrorist organizations.
At Birkenfeld's sentencing in August, DOJ itself fully acknowledged Birkenfeld's voluntary disclosures and made clear that DOJ would not have opened the UBS case without his information:
The United States opened an investigation based on information provided by Birkenfeld...This substantial assistance has been timely, significant, useful, truthful, complete and reliable.
Birkenfeld's information didn't just serve to expose thousands of illegal accounts; the case has yielded fines and penalties of $780 million. Yet, after taking and using all of the information he provided, DOJ still prosecuted Birkenfeld. And, while Birkenfeld's reward is a jail sentence, Birkenfeld's criminal colleagues - like Martin Leichti, Birkenfeld's ex-boss, who was allowed to return to Switzerland - are enjoying the benefits of hiding their criminal behavior: freedom and wealth.
So, as the letter asks, so do I:
Will the Department of Justice imprison the international banker who had the courage to voluntarily step forward and blow the whistle on one of the world’s most powerful corporations? Or will the Department of Justice use the Bradley Birkenfeld case as an historic opportunity to promote whistleblowing in the fight against corrupt international banks?