A former banker with the Swiss global financial services company UBS has received a $104-million whistleblower award from the Internal Revenue Service for detailing to the IRS how UBS advised thousands of Americans to evade taxes. Of course, before receiving his astoundingly generous bounty — the largest individual federal reward in U.S. history — Bradley Birkenfeld spent a couple of years in prison, as he himself advised clients on how to shield their assets from the U.S. tax agency.
After blowing the whistle on his former employer, Birkenfeld was slapped with a 40-month prison term for participating in UBS’s tax evasion program, a ruling his attorneys protested. The former banker’s tipoff opened the door to a 2009 settlement between UBS and the federal government under which UBS paid $780 million and forked over account information on nearly 5,000 of its clients. Since then, more than 35,000 Americans have pursued amnesty programs to repatriate offshore accounts, yielding the government some $5 billion in fines, penalties, and back taxes, according to a statement by Birkenfeld’s lawyers.
"The IRS today sent 104 million messages to whistleblowers around the world — that there is now a safe and secure way to report tax fraud and that the IRS is now paying awards," Birkenfeld's lawyers, Stephen Kohn and Dean Zerbe, asserted in a statement. "The IRS also sent 104 million messages to banks around the world — stop enabling tax cheats or you will get caught."
While the tax agency refused to provide specific details about the case, it acknowledged the $104-million award. “The IRS believes that the whistleblower statute provides a valuable tool to combat tax non-compliance, and this award reflects our commitment to the law,” the agency asserted in a statement.
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Photo of Bradley Birkenfeld: AP Images