Just how bad is the ongoing fraud in the banking system? Get ready for a mind-bowing expose by a former insider at UBS.
Brad Birkenfield, author of Lucifer’s Banker: The Untold Story of How I Destroyed Swiss Bank Secrecy, recounts the efforts he uncovered by his employer to help its clients cheat the US government out of tens of $billions in taxes.
But despite his working with the government closely to expose the gigantic conspiracy between US-based tax cheats and the giant Swiss bank, UBS, the so-called Justice Department went after Mr. Birkenfeld for abetting tax evasion by one of his clients. After spending thirty months in Federal prison, he was released and three weeks later, received a whistle-blower check for $104 million, the largest such check ever from the IRS Whistle-blower Office.
Baupost's investment process involves "never-ending" gleaning of facts to help support investment ideas Seth Klarman writes in his end-of-year letter to investors. In the letter, a copy of which ValueWalk has been able to review, the value investor describes the Baupost Group's process to identify ideas and answer the most critical questions about its potential Read More
Once again, 300,000,000 Americans-plus got screwed by the corrupt Department of Justice. They’re not about justice, they’re about protecting themselves, trying to take credit, and making everyone else listen to what they say the story is.
We remember the financial crisis of 2008. It was devastating and so many people lost their jobs, lost their homes and so forth. In the entire financial crisis, there was not one banker to go to jail. The only banker to go to jail was the UBS whistleblower who exposed the largest and longest running tax fraud in the world.
Here’s the problem with the system. When you fine UBS you must realize UBS is a Swiss bank, so that means they write off the fine on their taxes. So then, that means the Swiss taxpayers carry the burden. That’s the first thing.
The second thing is go look at the millions and millions of dollars in legal fees spent to defend their conduct. The UBS shareholders pick up that tab.
So you have UBS shareholders and Swiss citizens picking up the tab for bankers who just keep doing their business, and walk away untouched. How is this possible?
And third, the US government has set an incredibly bad precedent and zero deterrence. Because what they’re saying is, “Oh, if you get caught again, you just write a check. Yes, you might have to add $5 million or $10 million to that check, but just keep doing the business you’re doing.”
And the pathetic prosecutors at the Department of Justice say, “Oh, see? We’ve got a check and we can put it on our resume saying, ‘We got $200 million from this bank for doing illegal conduct.’”
Yeah, but you screwed the American people. It’s outrageous.
Click the play button below to listen to Chris’ interview with Brad Birkenfeld (45m:31s).
Chris Martenson: Welcome to this Peak Prosperity podcast. It is March 29, 2017 and I’m Chris Martenson, your host. Today, we’re going to be talking with Brad Birkenfeld, author of Lucifer’s Banker: The Untold Story of How I Destroyed Swiss Bank Secrecy. It’s a story of intrigue that will both illuminate what’s really going on and almost certainly fan the flames of injustice you may be carrying.
From his book’s description on Amazon, we learn that as a private banker working for the largest bank in the world – UBS – Bradley was an expert in the shell game of offshore companies and secret accounts that dominate the world of the ultra-wealthy. He wined and dined those clients whose millions of dollars were hidden away from business partners, spouses, and tax authorities. As his client list grew, Birkenfeld lived a life of money, fast cars, and beautiful women. But when he discovered that UBS was planning to betray him, he blew the whistle to the US government.
Now, despite working with the government closely to expose a gigantic conspiracy between US-based tax cheats and the giant Swiss bank, UBS, the so-called Justice Department went after Mr. Birkenfeld for abetting tax evasion by one of his clients. After spending thirty months in Federal prison, he was released and three weeks later, received a whistle blower check for $104,000,000, the largest such check ever from the IRS Whistleblower Office.
Welcome, Brad. It is a real pleasure having you on the program.
Brad Birkenfeld: Well, thank you so much, Chris, for having me on here and I’m delighted to educate and inform your audience so that they get a better idea of exactly what went on and how the American people got screwed by their government.
Chris Martenson: Well, you put all of that in the past tense, so let’s go into the story and see if we can have confidence that that is all in the past or not. But what a story. Let’s start at the beginning. How long were you working at UBS and how did you get there in the first place?
Brad Birkenfeld: Well, I left the United States where I worked in Boston for a large institutional investment management firm called State Street Global Advisors. I was a currency trader there for several years and actually, I witnessed illegal conduct there, which I outline in my book, Lucifer’s Banker. And I went to the FBI in Boston at the time, which was 1994. This is the same FBI office, by the way, Chris, that was coddling the mobster Whitey Bulger. So you can imagine that FBI office was tainted and corrupt and really, nothing happened. So, that’s where the story starts.
So, I went over to Switzerland to get my MBA in International Finance. And when I did that, I then moved from investment banking into private banking, which Switzerland is known for. And I was hired by Credit Suisse in Geneva and I started working there. And then, after a few years, my boss left to go to Singapore and I went with my next boss to Barclay’s Bank in Geneva and worked there for about four years from 1998 to around, oh, let’s say 2001.
Then, I was recruited from Barclay’s to UBS by a headhunting firm in London and I started working as the Head of Business Development for North America out of Geneva, Switzerland for UBS.
Chris Martenson: Alright, so you have a lot of experience in banking and finance and working in the depths of what we would call big banking. So let’s turn to the story itself that’s turned into what I think is – honestly, this is probably one of the best corporate crime books ever written. It’s just a fantastic story.
So let’s get into the story itself. As I put in the intro, there was some concern on your part that maybe UBS was going to be seeking fall guys or gals for their activities. Bring us into this case. What was happening?
Brad Birkenfeld: Well, really what happened here – and your audience, it is a complicated sort of web of information that’s important to understand the background so you get a feel for it and just don’t lash out and make generalized comments.
Chris Martenson: Great.
Brad Birkenfeld: So first and foremost, in Switzerland, Swiss bank secrecy is part of their constitution under Article 47 in 1934. So, that’s a fact. But why did it start? It started because when the Third Reich came to power in Germany under Adolf Hitler in 1933, they said that if you move any money out of the country, you will be shot. That’s a fact. Switzerland countered and said, “We’re going to put Article 47 in place to counter that and say, ‘We will never disclose the identity of any client that puts money in our country.” Okay, so it made sense. Now, that was 1934. The world was a different place then.
After the war, obviously, cross-border business bloomed. People were doing businesses in other currencies, other countries, and so on and so forth. So, what happened was Swiss bank secrecy – like attorney-client privilege or medical privacy – you understand that it made sense that you keep this kind of information confidential. Unfortunately, it was abused and taken to such an extent where the political stability and economic stability of Switzerland was utilized for nefarious acts. So, you got in the drug dealers, you had in the terrorist financing, insider trading, bribery, extortion, and so on and so forth, as well as intelligence agencies using Switzerland as a piggybank to do their illegal business. One story comes to mind for your audience, which would be Iran Contra. Iran Contra, Switzerland was at the center of laundering money to the Contras and Iranians to do this illegal business.
So, I worked in this industry inasmuch as in Switzerland, it was a legal business. It was a bit of a gray area when they told us, “You should go to the United States and see existing and potential clients,” because we weren’t licensed to sell products or investments in the United States because we were in an offshore jurisdiction.
Now, this had been going on before I was born but also, I was a part of it. I was in the middle of this and it started to get a little bit strenuous because what was happening is they were telling us to do things that really didn’t make us feel comfortable. And what it was, was take encrypted laptops to the US, which I refused to do. They were telling us to do other training methods to avoid detection in the US and lie on the immigration forms, which I refused to do. And really, what it came down to was I knew enough about the way in which the business was done and then, one day, a colleague brought to me a three-page document from our intranet. Well, the UBS intranet is massive and you need to know everything on there, technically, as an officer of the bank. And I had a ten-million-dollar signature power so I had significant responsibility and commitment to the firm and to the clients.
Well, what happened was the three-page document that was brought to my attention contradicted everything they were telling us to do – meaning going to the US and seeing clients. It said, “You can’t go to the US, you can’t do account opening forms, you can’t sell products, you can’t do any of these things.” So, in essence, what they were saying is one thing and in the background, another thing. And that document – the three-page document, which is in my book, Lucifer’s Banker – clearly states that one, this was sort of a setup. So the bank was protected but the clients weren’t protected, the colleagues weren’t protected, and the shareholders were not protected. So this was really a matter of greed for the bank and they weren’t able to divorce itself from this business. They just kept wanting to make the money from it.
So, that was really what it came down to. And I challenged management on it and ultimately, I resigned from the bank when they wouldn’t answer me.
Chris Martenson: So this was a heads-they-win, tails-you-lose kind of a CYA document, I’m guessing?
Brad Birkenfeld: Absolutely correct, spot on.
Chris Martenson: Okay. So when you resigned, you then – but you had a lot of information and a lot of knowledge about what was going on and the substance of that was that there were a lot of people in the United States who were still using this Swiss banking system in order to evade taxes, at this point. And if I have the story right, your information helped expose 19,000 American names. I don’t know if those are individuals or collected entities or how that stacks up – that appeared to be hiding money from the IRS. Tell us how it is that you came, though, to the decision to say, “Wow, maybe I should go turn whistleblower in this case.”
Brad Birkenfeld: Well, initially, as I said, I saw this three-page document, which I went to the head of the department who actually blew me off and didn’t want to ruffle any feathers. So, we almost got into fisticuffs over that. And I said, “You’re putting everybody at risk here. This is not right.” So I immediately gave it to some of my colleagues – senior colleagues – and then, I sent an email to the head of Legal and to the head of Compliance – two different departments – and I voiced my concern and attached the three-page document. And then, I printed this off and then sent it to both of them in inter-office mail. So, I was documenting and putting the material out there so no one could deny it was not out there.
So, I did that for one month, no answer. I did that the second month, no answer. I did it a third month, there was no answer. And at that point, that’s when I started taking documents out of the bank and storing them outside of Switzerland in France so that I was protected if anyone accused me of saying, “Hey, you don’t know what you’re talking about,” I had the documents to prove it.
Now then, I resigned from the bank. I resigned in October of 2005. Now, I started the whistleblowing in March of ’05. Now, this was a year and a half before the whistleblowing law in America was passed by Congress. So, people say, “Well, you just did it for the money.” No, I didn’t, because I started my whistleblowing long before the law was even passed so that’s an important fact for your audience to understand.
The second thing is I then took the three internal UBS whistleblowing policies that they wrote and I attached my three-page document and the information I sent to UBS Legal and UBS Compliance, and I sent it to the board of directors of the bank and said, “Now it’s your problem. I’m a whistleblower internally. I’m telling you and you need to do something about it.” Well, that caused a huge problem for the bank because now they knew they were on a stick for this extensively illegal conduct.
Then, they called an investigation. That investigation was just a sandbag job and they covered it up again. So, the board of directors of the bank covered up the largest and longest-running tax fraud in the world. So, at that point, I had no choice but to then go to the United States government – my own government – and tell them about this. But unfortunately, the US government was a part of it. They were knee-deep in it. And I can tell you why this is so damning is because the Department of Justice doesn’t like whistleblowers, number one, because it makes them look like the fools they are. The second thing is if they were so good, why didn’t they uncover it? Why would it take a single courageous whistleblower to come forward and expose the largest and longest-running tax fraud in the world? And they were oblivious to this? No, they were part of it, as I said.
So, this really was the problem. And then, I knew that the DOJ was so hostile towards me and I had to go to the FCC, the IRS, and the US Senate. And if you go onto my website, LucifersBanker.com, you’ll see under the UBS Scandal there are countless documents of the Senate hearings and GAO reports and so on and so forth that prove what I was saying was correct. And the government really didn’t want to get involved in this because as I said, a lot of these people were involved – CEOs, billionaires, politicians, celebrities, sports stars. And this is what happened. It is ingrained in America – 19,000 rich Americans where the minimum account size was $1,000,000 had this at UBS in Switzerland.
Chris Martenson: Alright. So Brad, what I’m hearing here, though, is, you know, whether the DOJ was – they didn’t want to either look like fools or inept or something like that. But you also mentioned earlier that intelligence agencies had been known through the Iran Contra example – we can assume that’s not a one-off – but that there was – there’s possibly government involvement here at some level.
So, I want to circle back around to that. But before we get there, let’s talk now about how this case really started to come out. What you’re describing was that because it’s encoded in the Swiss constitution, this banking secrecy, you’re taking extraordinary risk here both with the Swiss government authorities and now you’re making it sound like also at least the US Department of Justice authorities, as well. That really sounds rock in a hard place. Again, do I have that right? And if so, why did you do this?
Brad Birkenfeld: Well, you’re absolutely correct. But the main thing was the DOJ, I asked them for immunity, they declined. I asked them for a subpoena – a simple subpoena – which takes a matter of minutes to issue, and they refused. Because they thought, you know, “We’re not going to work with this guy.” They were being very hostile.
So I said, “Okay, you’re not going to do that. Now, I can’t give you names unless you give me a subpoena because I would go to jail in Switzerland where it’s a crime to expose your clients,” which I did not do. The only client I exposed was a client that was making illegal oil sales with Saddam Hussein who had $420,000,000 in six numbered accounts who lived in a $50,000,000 condo in New York City. Now, his name was Abdul Aziz Abas and he’s in my book. And you can see the account numbers there and you see the entire information on this gentleman. The DOJ did nothing about this person, nothing. Because he was best friends with Ray Kelly, the Commissioner of the Police Department, and he was friends with Rudy Giuliani in New York. So, you can see that there was political ties to this person and most likely, he was involved with the CIA because he was doing illegal oil sales with Saddam Hussein.
So, this in and of itself was so damning. But then, I went to the US Senate and they were happy to give me a subpoena. So, by getting the subpoena from US Senate, I was insulated from prosecution in Switzerland, but I wasn’t insulated from prosecution by the DOJ, who were furious that I left them and then involved other agencies like the Senate, the FCC, and the IRS.
Chris Martenson: Now, let’s talk about this because there’s just so much smoke here. I know there’s fire down here somewhere. Your information ended up exposing those 19,000 American names we talked about. Let’s unpack this. How many of those names were actually turned over to the IRS?
Brad Birkenfeld: Well, this is the problem. What we had, and what we learned later as a result of WikiLeaks – and it’s on my website again, LucifersBanker.com, there is ironically, Aftenposten is a Norwegian newspaper that exposed a one-page CIA cable. And that cable showed that Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State had secret meetings with the Swiss to settle the UBS case for political reasons. Now, that’s very dangerous.
Chris Martenson: Hmm.
Brad Birkenfeld: Yes, exactly. So what we have here is a Secretary of State who claims to be so above board but yet, was having secret meetings and negotiating only 4,500 names out of 19,000, Chris. Now, Chris, that’s a 75% failure rate. If you fail 75% of the time at your job or any of your listeners fail 75% of the time, they’d be fired.
Chris Martenson: Well, it goes beyond the failure. Who picked those names and left the other ones off?
Brad Birkenfeld: Well, then you get into the more deep questions, exactly correct. How were they selected? Did Hillary pick them? Did UBS pick them? Who was selected and why? And why wouldn’t you get all 19,000 names, Chris? You know, five people rob a bank, you only get one person? No, you get all five. And this was going on for decades. So the very fact that she made a deal and negotiated 25% of the names and how they were selected, as you rightly point out, is really troubling. And actually, in effect, you’ve cheated 300,000,000 Americans.
Chris Martenson: Yeah. Brad, I want to get to – I mean, this is just – here’s where the sausage is being made. I have this part that you wrote here is just, this is just astonishing to me and that this didn’t really come out more fully in the last election cycle. But it’s that prior to Clinton’s – Hillary Clinton’s deal with the Swiss, that secret deal, UBS had only seen fit to contribute $60,000 to the Clinton Foundation. You wrote, “An amount that wouldn’t even cover the bank’s annual parking tickets.” But that afterward, the Clinton Foundation’s cash registers rang up $600,000 in UBS gifts. And the bank also then decided to partner with the Foundation on inner city development programs issuing a $32,000,000 loan at very reasonable rates and oh, suddenly, the UBS also thought Bill Clinton would make a very fine paid speaker about global affairs so they paid him $1.52 million for a series of fireside chats with the bank’s Wealth Management Chief Executive, Bob McCann. It was Bill Clinton’s biggest payday since leaving the office of the Presidency.
Brad, I’ve got to tell you, that doesn’t smell real good over here from where I’m sitting.
Brad Birkenfeld: Well, let me tell you something. Not only does it stink to high heaven but it shows the ingrained corruption of the Clinton family and the Foundation. Inextricably linked. You can’t divorce yourselves from both. They’re the alter ego of one another and they use it as a piggyback to curry favor with foreign governments and get these funds.
Now, ironically, we found out just recently a few months ago after the election that geez, the Swiss government gave $500,000 to the Clinton Foundation while they were negotiating the settlement with UBS.
Chris Martenson: Oh, come on. [Laugh]
Brad Birkenfeld: Okay, it’s on my website. You can go check the article. Go onto my website, you’ll see that this was what was going on. So how is it possible that you would be involved in such a nefarious act and the conflict, and you violated your oath to the US Constitution? That’s an impeachable offense.
Chris Martenson: It’s astonishing to me. And so you know, the subtext of all of this, which is really is that, you know, it’s kind of crime pays. But actually, it’s that we entered a period of what you’re calling “no-fault corporate crime enforcement.” I think it began a long time ago but under Holder, it became a real art form.
So in this case where UBS was eventually fined $780,000,000 for helping those US citizens evade the taxes, what kind of a – in terms of the – what sort of a penalty was that? Was that several hundred percent of their ill-gotten gains? Or you know, tell me, what kind of a slap was that?
Brad Birkenfeld: Well, for your audience, it’s very simple, the math. The Department of Justice took an eight-year window, if you will, from 2000 to 2008 – 2007, pardon me, that’s an eight-year window. That eight-year window, we made about $200,000,000 a year in profits. Those numbers came from me, were given to the Justice Department, and that was in the deferred prosecution. By the way, the bank wasn’t prosecuted, they got a deferred prosecution and paid $780,000,000. But really, if you run the numbers, $200,000,000 of the $780,000,000 went to the FCC. So they really fined them $580,000,000. And they were making $200,000,000 a year for an eight-year period. So the quick math tells you that’s $1.6 billion, Chris. Where are the billion dollars, though? Just to make the US taxpayer whole, forget about fines, penalties, and interest. Then, UBS claimed they couldn’t afford to pay because they had hard times. They accepted $5 billion from AIG, which was taxpayer money.
So we were laundering money to AIG to pay UBS and they claimed they couldn’t pay the fine. The political forces at bay at the time fixed it. The Barak Obama Presidency is tainted and corrupt. And furthermore, Eric Holder in private practice represented UBS at Covington & Burling. Hillary Clinton had secret meetings at Swiss and send two Chinese _____ [00:21:24] Guantanamo detainees to Switzerland to settle the case. Barak Obama, who was Senator Obama, was on the Senate committee investigating UBS but never attended one meeting – not one. They were investigating UBS but at the same time, he accepted millions of dollars from UBS for his Presidential campaign. That is an impeachable offense. He violated his oath to the Constitution, he betrayed the American people, and you don’t see any media outlet talking about this, not one.
Chris Martenson: Indeed we don’t. And so I want to turn to what is I’m sure the darkest portion of this story for you was you being prosecuted. And I’m not aware of anybody else in this entire story being prosecuted or even losing their job, maybe I have that wrong. But what happened to you? What were the specifics of the case?
Brad Birkenfeld: Well, they gave all of my bosses above me secret non-prosecution agreements. Each one of them got a secret non-prosecution agreement. And even when the head of the private bank, Raoul Weil, was indicted and then called a fugitive three months later, a few years later after 2009 when that happened, he went to Italy and he was arrested on an Interpol arrest warrant where he was a fugitive. Well, now the US was in big trouble because they had put on this sham case in Florida.
Now, when he was arrested and extradited to Florida – this is the head of the private bank for UBS – I gave that man to them. That’s how they indicted him. But it was just a show maneuver. So when the trial came up, they never called me to testify – not once. They called all of my bosses who got secret non-prosecution agreements and he was acquitted in about thirty minutes because the whistleblower wasn’t able to testify in that case.
Chris Martenson: Wasn’t able to?
Brad Birkenfeld: Yeah. No, they didn’t call me. They didn’t want me to – they didn’t want me at the trial. And they screwed up the case. So,once again, 300,000,000 Americans-plus got screwed by the corrupt Department of Justice. They’re not about justice, they’re about protecting themselves, trying to take credit, and making everyone else listen to what they say the story is. But unfortunately now, I’ve told my story in the book and it’s so compelling. And if you think of it this way, your audience is quite intelligent. We remember the financial crisis of 2008, it was devastating and so many people lost their jobs, lost their homes and so forth. In the entire financial crisis, there was not one banker to go to jail. The only banker to go to jail was the UBS whistleblower who exposed the largest and longest running tax fraud in the world.
Chris Martenson: And the substance of the case against you was that they said – if I have this right – that you had failed to be forthcoming about your client – specifically, one of them – and I believe Kevin, it was Kevin Downing who was prosecuting this said, “With regard to whistleblowers, those who seek to be treated as true whistleblowers need to know they must come in early and give complete and truthful disclosures. Mr. Birkenfeld did not come in and give complete and truthful disclosures; therefore, he is not entitled to whistleblower status.” How do you respond?
Brad Birkenfeld: Well, he’s a fraud and that’s a lie. He lied to the Senate and he lied to – and his colleagues lied to the Senate – and he lied to a federal judge in Florida who is as corrupt as the Department of Justice. The fact of the matter is they knew I could not give names until I had a subpoena. UBS said the same thing, “We cannot give names.” I said the same thing. The moment I went to the Senate, I gave testimony to the Senate after the subpoena and gave all the names and Igor Olenicoff was in there. And the Senate shared the information with the DOJ and they used that information to indict me.
So they’re lying. It’s a flat out lie. And it’s even worse. To this day, Chris, to this very day, the testimony I gave almost a decade ago to the Senate under oath, they won’t give me my own testimony.
Chris Martenson: Really?
Brad Birkenfeld: Won’t give it to me. Because you know why? Because the information I gave about Olenicoff is in there. I gave Igor Olenicoff to them and they had that information, and they even sent me an email saying, “Oh, we forgot about Kevin Costner…” No, “We forgot about Igor Olenicoff but we remember Kevin Costner.” Oh, well, that’s nice. How did that work out? Hmm.
So, you see that they were all in bed together to bury this because they all look like idiots. And I exposed the whole scandal, which they were a part of, because now they were scrambling for a scapegoat and that was me.
Chris Martenson: Right. And just so people get the complete picture of the prosecutor at the time out of the DOJ, was Kevin Downing, who is now – hold onto your seats, people – an attorney for Miller & Chevalier, a Washington DC white shoe firm specializing in tax law, white collar crime, and advising global businesses on government enforcement and compliance. What a revolving door. I mean, between Eric Holder and on and on. I mean, this is a really hard impression for me to shake and for my listeners, which is that there is just this revolving door. They all protect each other, they commit massive crimes, and the laws don’t seem to apply to them. In some respects, to get – you know, this isn’t a political statement but an observation – this was the odor that Hillary was carrying with her saying, “Trust me. I’m electable, I’ll take care of you.” But we all know that the Clinton Foundation, what we saw of it, it was just a pay-for-play scheme, that there’s just massive institutionalized fraud and corruption ongoing.
Is this a fair characterization? When did it start and where do we – what’s our hope in this story?
Brad Birkenfeld: Well, the good thing is, is that I’m out and I published my book, Lucifer’s Banker, I put a website together, LucifersBanker.com. I’m publishing my book in multiple foreign languages and lecturing around the world to educate the people to show how corrupt the Department of Justice is, to show that there’s this revolving door where Kevin Downing leaves the Department of Justice, goes to Miller & Chevalier, and is defending the people he should’ve prosecuted. This is outrageous. Why isn’t there a Senate hearing on this? Why aren’t I called in to testify in public and expose all this? Because then, you’re going to have a lot of rich contributors and CEOs and politicians themselves say, “We can’t have him speak in public under oath because it’ll expose us for what we are – frauds.”
Chris Martenson: Well, absolutely. So let me just build – you know, it took me about a minute to assemble a list of crimes of UBS. So it was 2009. As a consequence of your actions, UBS was fined that $780,000,000. Then in 2012, UBS is fined $1.5 billion, this time for the Libor scandal. 2015, fined $545,000,000 for foreign exchange manipulation.
Listen, I take two things from this, Brad, from that list. First is that UBS has learned nothing except that crime does pay. And the second is that the big banks are busy manipulating pretty much every market, no matter how large at this point in time. Again, are those fair sort of assessments at this point?
Brad Birkenfeld: It’s an understatement, actually, Chris. Because you know, I’ve only put the top ten UBS crimes on my website under the UBS Scandal. And the very fact that you just write a check – and I coin the phrase, aptly named, it’s, “political prostitution.” The politicians just have these wonderful press conferences at the DOJ and say, “We’ve got all this money, we have all this,” but nobody goes to jail.
So number one, here’s the problem with this. So when you fine UBS, what your audience must realize – it’s simple. UBS is a Swiss bank, so that means they write it off on their taxes. So then, that means the Swiss taxpayers carry the burden. That’s the first thing.
The second thing is, go look at the millions and millions of dollars in legal fees to defend their conduct. Then, the UBS shareholders pick up that tab. Oh, that’s nice. So you have UBS shareholders, Swiss citizens picking up the tab for bankers who just keep doing their business, and they walk away. How is this possible? Then, the US government – oh, they get a happy face for the day – meaning what they’ve done is they’ve set an incredibly bad precedent and zero deterrence. Because what they’re saying is, “Oh, if you get caught again, you just write a check. Oh, you might have to add $5,000,000 or $10,000,000 to that check, and you just keep doing the business you’re doing.” And the pathetic prosecutors at the Department of Justice say, “Oh, see? We’ve got a check and we can put it on our resume saying, ‘We got $200,000,000 from this bank for doing illegal conduct.’” Yeah, but you screwed the American people. It’s outrageous.
Chris Martenson: It is outrageous, and it continues on. And so to round this out – I’m really glad to have you on because maybe you can shed light on this – we tracked and we were pretty carefully looking at what happened with the Panama Papers when they came out, that giant dump that came out from that Fonseca file dump. And I was a little surprised – well, maybe not – but just a little surprised at how quickly that story disappeared from the news cycle. And in searching afterwards, there are independent analysts who’ve dug through that trove and uncovered what appears to be a massive evasion and laundering scheme. You talk about, you know, is the DOJ worried about appearing foolish or complicit or incompetent. I mean, that to me looked like, again, giant silver platter. Here’s a web of shell companies that are clearly designed to hide wealth from authorities and partners, spouses – from legal, any sort of legal oversight. That went away pretty quickly. Is that an unfair observation of mine?
Brad Birkenfeld: No, it’s a very good observation. It’s very to the point. And the point we have with the Panama Papers is very simple. Why is it that they said there was an anonymous whistleblower – which it could be – but 11.4 million documents. You have to understand how many documents that is to fill a room. It’s massive. Now, no thumb drive is going to hold that amount on there. So this was clearly an intelligence breach. Some intelligence agency hacked this and did it for a purpose to expose some of the enemies, let’s say, of the US, whether it’s Putin or Pakistan or Venezuela, and that’s what happened. And there was Cameron, who was collateral damage. Because this was so massive. And in my opinion, I gave an interview in Munich, Germany on this and I said, “Yeah, it was the CIA that pulled this off.” Because what they did was they tried to get in there to use this information to threaten other people. For instance, if I get information and I destroy somebody – let’s say yourself in politics – I go to the next person and say, “See what I did to Chris? So you’d better play ball with me or I’m going to expose you.” And it’s more of about a leverage game of extortion.
And I’m convinced that’s what this is because it’s just – it doesn’t make sense. There’s an anonymous whistleblower, 11.4 million documents, and everybody who was announced in the initial leak was an enemy of the US. How is that possible?
Chris Martenson: Yeah, it didn’t make sense to me, either. That was one of our observations, like, “This really stinks to high heaven.” But it didn’t seem to have a huge impact, I guess, except unless it was a chilling sort of a, you know, as you say, a message sent, a shot across the bow.
And on that front, it’s pretty clear to me that your particular case as a whistleblower was really designed by the Department of Justice to send a chilling message to other whistleblowers. So under Obama, who I know a lot of people think was this progressive, suave person that they really admire, he was probably the most hostile President I’m aware of to whistleblowers. And it seems to me like you case was, if anything, the equivalent of the Panama Paper dump. It’s like, “Hey, shot across the bow, don’t be a whistleblower. We’re going to make your life very miserable if you do.” Again, unfair or fair?
Brad Birkenfeld: Well, you’re absolutely correct. And it goes even deeper than that and Barack Obama has defrauded the American people. I would debate this gentleman at any city at any time on this issue. But obviously, he wouldn’t do that because that would expose him for he is – the fraud I say he is. That’s the first thing.
The second thing is he violated his oath to the Constitution when he never attended those hearings at the US Senate, in which he was an active member at the time.
Third, his cabinet was so flawed between Eric Holder, who represented UBS; Hillary Clinton, who did a secret deal with the Swiss; Tim Geithner, who didn’t pay his own taxes – the Treasury Secretary didn’t pay his own taxes and admitted it. This is the cast of clowns we had in the Obama circus.
And I can tell you, you know, everybody wants to say he was such a great President and this and that and look, I’m not going to say one way or another, I’m just stating fact. And I think if at any time you cheat the American people, you should be removed from office immediately. Period, end of story.
Chris Martenson: Alright, well, just to – I agree totally. And you have an interesting piece in the book, which is about how in August 2009 on that first Sunday after you were sentenced to prison, at the Farm Neck Golf Club at Martha’s Vineyard, President Obama was playing golf that day and his partner was Robert Wolf, Chairman of UBS Americas. And you wrote, “I’m sure it was a fine day of patter and play guarded by a throng of Secret Service agents and I wondered if Obama and Wolf had high-fived over my downfall or maybe sent a ‘Good job’ text to the sentencing judge. I’ll never know because much like Swiss bankers, Secret Service agents don’t talk.”
That does seem like a little wink from the matrix, as it were like, “Hey, you know, this is how we play. This is how the game is played.”
Brad Birkenfeld: Well, that’s exactly right. And Barack Obama was actually more hostile towards whistleblowers than any other President combined. And in my case in particular with this UBS case, how interesting that the fact of the matter is, is that you were in bed with the big bank, period. And this is something that was so dangerous. Because Robert Wolf was then appointed by the President to two of his committees and he was a frequent visitor of the White House. Why would you do such a thing? Why was this something that was never disclosed clearly and the President was never grilled on this by the media in the White House? I mean, this is just left to the wayside.
So, it just goes to show you all the way from the President down, you can’t trust these people. It’s like anything. If you have a spousal relationship and you cheat once, you’ll cheat a thousand times. That’s the same with President Obama. You cheated the American people once, God only knows how many other times you’ve cheated us.
And think of it this way. Take a more current event with President Obama. When he paid $1.4 billion in cash to the State of Iran. You know, the money wasn’t wired. It was sent in cash on a private jet from where else? Geneva, Switzerland. So, I guess President Obama has access to bank accounts in Geneva where he pulled the money from? Is that where the money came from? I mean, this is outrageous and this is incredible. And what I did, I sent my book, Lucifer’s Banker, by FedEx, to every member of Congress before the election, as well as to the President and the Attorney General and the Secretary of State, John Kerry. I didn’t get one response from one Democrat, not one. But I got three letters from three Republican Congressman. And that’s very telling. The fact that I had written a letter to the President in the book – which is on my website – and he didn’t respond. So, he’s a busy guy but I said, “What are you going to do to fix this? Why is this that you cheated the American people? Why aren’t you doing something about it?” And the very fact that Senators and Congress people who represent us, the people, don’t act on this, this just shows how ridiculous the whole system is.
Chris Martenson: Absolutely, absolutely. And while I have you, I have to ask a question. This is a very narrow question, you may not have any insight into this. But one of the markets that my followers look at pretty closely are the precious metals markets. Are the precious metals markets and do you have any insights – any idea that may those would be free from the sort of manipulation and corruption that seems to be discovered everywhere else in the financial landscape?
Brad Birkenfeld: The problem with the US government is they’re so clueless about investigating those types of crimes. And I was working with several clients – not my clients but several other clients – and we looked at the gold manipulation by UBS. Gold is traded around the world through certain time zones – Hong Kong, Dubai, London, and New York. And you could see the amount of money that they trade in gold is staggering. This needs an investigation immediately into the trading practices of gold.
But here’s the problem. If you indict UBS, that’s like indicting the Swiss government. Because the Swiss government and UBS are one and the same. And I’ll give you an even better example. Back in 2004, UBS – the largest bank in the world at the time – was sending illegal wire transfers of millions of dollars to Cuba, Libya, and Iran. This is 2004. So Cuba, Libya, and Iran. The US government comes in and fines them $100,000,000 and no one goes to jail. Now, how do you pull that number out of thin air, $100,000,000? Sounds nice, sounds sexy. But how do you calculate that? Where did you come up with that number? That’s the first thing.
The second, more troubling thing is Cuba, Libya, and Iran in 2004, who represented the US interests in those countries? Switzerland.
So the Swiss government had to know what UBS was up to but yet, they’re violating on our own sanctions that we set up to say, “You can’t deal with these three countries but you represent us in those three countries.” This is absolutely maddening. Why is no one talking about this? Why isn’t anyone doing anything about this? And they continue, as you rightly point out, to break the law in various businesses in various countries around the world and it’s business as usual.
Chris Martenson: Well, it sounds, you know, this isn’t bankers acting badly. This is bankers in bed with the government and, of course, this is something that’s been going on ever since the Federal Reserve was chartered in 1913 and it’s been growing and building. But what I’m getting a sense of here is, you know, I track the Federal Reserve very closely as a proxy for all of the central banks. But they’re all in the same game, which is they’re serial bubble blowers, they’ve been financializing everything, creating massive, massive amounts of money out of thin air. Everybody’s sort of been feasting around that. It really feels like a party gone bad and in some respects, it almost feel like everybody’s grabbing as much as they can where nothing matters anymore. Country loyalty doesn’t exist, honor doesn’t exist; doing right from wrong, people don’t seem to remember what that is anymore. You know, laws are for little people, and all of this is starting to boil over and that sense of injustice is being felt in the voters and the voting populace. And of course, bringing these stories to light is really important.
I really – Brad, what you’ve done is just absolutely fantastic, it’s amazing, it needed to be done. And I’ll do everything I can to help get that message out because the first thing that needs to happen is we have to understand what the game is and how it’s being played. There’s no justice here, there’s no right from wrong, there’s just corruption at this point.
Brad Birkenfeld: Well, you’re absolutely correct, and your audience understands it and I hope your audience can spread the word and look at my website. And if they’d like to buy the book, certainly that’s nice because it’ll tell a story that’s so riveting and it’s factual because it’s backed up documents on my website.
So I challenge anyone in politics – anyone – if you’d like to debate this issue, I will show up. But I’ve got no takers. Why? Because nobody wants to go down this path because, you know, be careful what you wish for. These people are part of the problem, not part of the solution. And they keep telling us that they’re going to pass laws and regulations. It doesn’t work. Because you have a political justice department that does nothing except they hold press conferences and tell you how great they are.
Ask yourself this. All the fines that the DOJ has levied, where does that money go? Do we have a full accounting of that money? And where does it go?
Chris Martenson: [Laugh] I bet we don’t.
Brad Birkenfeld: Right. Where does it go? To the DOJ Bingo Parlor Fund? I mean, you know, we need a third party accounting of this and call them into Senate hearings. Call me in. I hope your audience goes to their senators and say, “Look, you need hearings on this issue and Mr. Birkenfeld should be called in to testify under oath.” I’d show up there tomorrow if I was called. And now, we’ll get to the truth. We’ll get to the bottom of this so the American people can stop feeling they’re getting screwed and they don’t get the truth. This is a real problem.
And just this matter I said about the DOJ with all the fines. Where is that money going? How do we know they’re not spending it? How do we know they’re just not buying whatever they feel? Where is the oversight? Where is the accountability?
Chris Martenson: And that’s the key word for me is “accountability.” Obviously, without accountability, you get nothing, nothing changes. And we’ve got moral hazard baked into the system but also, this “crime does pay” mentality. Clearly, it pays, and it won’t change without accountability. Fines do nothing.
So, we have to get back to accountability or we have to just accept that we live in an increasingly rapacious system that is going to lie, cheat, steal, thieve from the everybody for the benefit of the few. That’s the system, it needs changing.
We’ve been talking with Brad Birkenfeld, author of Lucifer’s Banker: The Untold Story of How I Destroyed Swiss Bank Secrecy. Brad, one more time, your website so people can find you.
Brad Birkenfeld: It’s www.LucifersBanker.com, and there’s some fantastic documents in there under the UBS Scandal. I think your audience will really enjoy it and I really just want to educate the American people and show them how they’re getting ripped off by their own government.
Chris Martenson: Well, thank you for that and also, for writing what is probably the best corporate crime book written that I’ve read so far. It’s just fantastic. It’s a really riveting tale – and maddening, too, if I can put that in there. Because it’s just so blatantly obvious what’s going on. We need these stories to get out.
Brad, thank you so much for your time, today. And mostly, for doing what you’ve done and for writing this book.
Brad Birkenfeld: Well, Chris, thank you for having me on and I hope your audience enjoys the book and look forward to coming back on your show at some point.
Chris Martenson: Thank you, I’d love to have you back.