Tuesday 15 October 2019

'Whistleblowing is important for Ireland' - Former banker Bradley C Birkenfeld who lifted the lid on Swiss banking corruption

Laura Lynott

Laura Lynott

The most “historic” financial whistleblower who lifted the lid on Swiss banking corruption has said the Irish Government needs to legally protect whistleblowers as they are the “extension of law enforcement”.

Bradley C Birkenfeld, a former banker who worked in the EU for 15 years - blew the whistle on UBS - the world’s largest bank and how it was helping rich Americans commit billions of dollars in tax evasion.

Mr Birkenfeld, who served time in prison in the U.S despite his admissions, told the Dublin Information Sec 2017, at the RDS:  “Whistleblowing is important for Ireland and the world, it’s so important for public policy and laws need to be implemented to protect whistleblowers.”

Mr Birkenfeld said it was up to the Irish Government to now become less “political” player and more an agent of its citizens - acting with their best interests at heart to create a better society for the next generation.

“If you see a crime, it’s important that you report it because if you don’t, you’re part of that crime,” Mr Birkenfeld said.

“But people need to be protected by law because why would they want to volunteer information as a whistleblower if they risk sacrificing their jobs, family, friends?

“I was the one who had the courage to tell my Government about the largest tax scandal in the world, why put me in jail when I gave you all of this?

“You begin to make your theories - I was disrupting the rich of America, of CEOs, politicians.”

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Mr Birkenfeld was released from federal prison in August 2012 after serving two-and-a-half years for being charged as a Swiss banker of hiding millions of dollars for wealthy American clients. 

But then he received a cheque from the U.S. Treasury for $104m as his share as a whistleblower of the massive settlement his former employer—the Swiss bank UBS—had paid to the United States Government in a settlement for helping Americans dodge taxes.

“Whistleblowing is important in the U.S and throughout the world, when you look at whistleblowing, it’s better for society - it has some very good qualities,” he said.

“Whistleblowing in general helps society become a better place, they are an extension of law enforcement.

“You have to pass legislation to protect them.”

All Irish citizens should stand up against corruption, the whistleblower said because “You want your children to have a good life. Otherwise corruption will continue, you know that in Ireland and we know it in the States, we have case after case of it.

“We all need to eradicate corruption, as it’s negative for society and the children of the next generation.  We all have to understand if we don’t do something it will continue.”

Mr Birkenfeld, who now lives in Malta, said he lives by a quote from Irish philosopher Edmund Burke that it was “difficult to speak,” but it was “impossible to be silent.”

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