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Jailed Whistleblower: US Lawmakers Held Offshore UBS Accounts

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Democracy Now! co-host Juan Gonzalez discusses his interview with UBS whistleblower Bradley Birkenfeld one day after Birkenfield’s Tax Day clemency request to President Obama. Birkenfeld is serving a forty-month sentence despite playing a key role in exposing the biggest tax evasion scheme in US history. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Juan, you have a very interesting piece in today’s New York Daily News.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes. Well, my column follows up, actually, on the conversation we had yesterday here on Democracy Now! on the issue of Bradley Birkenfeld, the UBS whistleblower. I interviewed Birkenfeld by telephone from his federal cell in Pennsylvania yesterday, and he provided some new revelations about the involvement of UBS in the largest tax fraud in American history.

Birkenfeld told me that the UBS bank that he worked for, the Swiss bank, actually had an office in Washington, DC, which the other bankers called the PEP office, which was for “politically exposed people.” And he claims it was an office that handled the offshore bank accounts of American politicians. He said he did not have the names of those politicians, because he didn’t actually work in that office and it was closely held, but it was well known that there were major American politicians, as well, that were hiding their money in Swiss bank accounts.

And he also said that UBS Americas, the US subsidiary, was directly involved in facilitating the recruitment of rich Americans to hide their bank — to hide their money in the Swiss parent company, that the UBS Americas would sponsor major society events and then invite the Swiss bankers over to mingle with the crowd of rich Americans, like Art Basel in Miami and other — the Boston Symphony events and others that the bank sponsored, and then invite the Swiss bankers over to recruit the rich Americans to put their money in Swiss banks.

So it will be interesting to see if federal prosecutors continue to follow up on this issue, especially of major politicians being involved in hiding their money from the federal government in Swiss banks.

AMY GOODMAN: And the reason we did the story yesterday — and if people didn’t see it, go to democracynow.org — is because it was Tax Day, and that was the day that Birkenfeld chose to ask for clemency. And the issue, just once again, as you talk about these PEPs, politically exposed persons, who would have offshore bank accounts, how high up the connections of UBS goes, both in the Republican and Democratic parties?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, yeah. You have the fact that Robert Wolf, who was the chair of UBS Americas — or is the chair of UBS Americas, was the prime fundraiser and close confidante of Barack Obama, and still is, while the vice chair of UBS Americas is Phil Gramm, the —-

AMY GOODMAN: Former Texas senator.

JUAN GONZALEZ: —- former Texas senator, who was also the senior adviser, economic adviser, to John McCain during the presidential campaign. So you had the fact that the chairman of UBS Americas was a close adviser to Barack Obama, while the vice chair was a senior economic adviser to John McCain. So UBS had the bases covered with both political parties in the last election.

AMY GOODMAN: Perhaps why it didn’t become a campaign issue for either party when you had, in August, President — well, then-Senator Obama teeing off with UBS’s Wolf in Martha’s Vineyard at the same time, of course, though, McCain was with Phil Gramm.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, of course, the real tragedy or the scandal of all this is that Bradley Birkenfeld, the guy who blew the whistle, who voluntarily came forward and gave the government all this information that made this continued investigation and now indictments of many who were involved in tax evasion, has gotten the biggest sentence. He is serving forty months in federal prison, while none of the executives of UBS have been brought to justice, and those rich Americans, 15,000 of them in the past year, in 2009, came forward to admit to the IRS that they were holding offshore accounts and basically paid fines. And about a half-dozen or so have already been indicted criminally, but they’ve all gotten a few months in jail or been allowed to pay fines, while the guy who blew the whistle on the whole thing, Bradley Birkenfeld, is sitting in a federal prison with a forty-month sentence.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’ll certainly continue to follow this story.

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