UBS whistleblower sounds cautionary note

Memoir by former banker Bradley Birkenfeld shows perils facing those who blow the whistle on wrongdoing — and those who listen to them
By Gina Chon
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 11/14/2016

The story of a UBS banker-turned-whistleblower sounds a cautionary note. Bradley Birkenfeld helped expose tax evasion at the Swiss lender, landing it with a big fine and cracking open the country’s bank secrecy rules. Though he collected a US$104-million reward, he also ended up in jail.

Birkenfeld’s book, Lucifer’s Bank, opens with an inside look at the debaucheries of elite European banking, and the hall-of-mirrors tactics the very rich use to hide their wealth. Later, he shows how justice can be messy and even undermined by the people supposed to carry it out.

The account is particularly relevant because authorities are increasingly relying on whistleblowers to alert them to wrongdoing. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is pursuing about 700 cases that started with a tip-off from an insider. The UBS investigation, which ended with the bank paying a US$780-million fine, kicked off the U.S. government’s broader probe into tax evasion aided by Swiss banks.