UBS, the world’s largest wealth manager, is facing embarrassment over fresh revelations going back to the tax investigation that led to the collapse of Swiss banking secrecy. Two significant events are looming before UBS. The first is the possibility of a public trial in France, featuring UBS whistleblower Bradley Birkenfeld, concerning historic tax evasion allegedly orchestrated by the bank. That could happen this year.
The other is the publication this October of Birkenfeld’s scathing new book, Lucifer’s Banker, which covers his time at UBS.
The tax evasion controversy, which was first highlighted in 2005, subsequently involved the US Department of Justice, the State Department and Internal Revenue Service. It was prompted by disclosures made by Birkenfeld that UBS had helped wealthy US citizens evade taxes using offshore financial vehicles and Swiss-numbered accounts.
In 2009, UBS paid $780m (£588m, €693m) to US authorities to avoid prosecution.
Birkenfeld served 31 months in prison for one count of conspiracy to abet tax evasion by one of his clients. After he was released he was paid a record $104m by the IRS for helping recover unpaid taxes.
However, Birkenfeld has since said that he was systematically prevented from giving testimony in open court – but this may be about to change thanks to the French authorities.
In February 2015, under the request of a French federal subpoena, Birkenfeld was allowed to travel to Paris where he spent 10 hours with magistrates giving sworn testimony and submitting multiple UBS documents in his possession.
“Why is it that I had to travel 3,000 miles across the pond to go help a foreign government?” asks Birkenfeld. “My own government covered it up. Well now the French case is coming forward – and unlike the US they are actually holding a trial. And not only France; Germany has also contacted me to …