As part of our #GivingTuesday campaign, we are sharing several whistleblower stories from this year’s National Whistleblower Day celebration. Whistleblower Bradley Birkenfeld is a poster child of how whistleblowers who try to do the right thing can be utterly destroyed or highly rewarded.
As an international banker at Swiss giant, UBS (the largest bank in the world at the time), he blew the whistle on their illegal secret banking practices— soliciting and managing illegal off-shore Swiss bank accounts for American tax cheats. His exposure was the largest tax-evasion fraud in U.S. history and many of the accounts were held by America’s most powerful elite.
However, after reporting this incredible scandal he lost his job and was arrested by the Department of Justice. Despite the mass scale of this international banking fraud, Birkenfeld was the only arrest made and spent almost three years in prison. Fortunately, he eventually received the legal expertise he had needed from the start, and was not only released from prison, but received the world’s largest ever whistleblower reward at $104 million from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS)!
The disclosures made by this single whistleblower, resulted in unprecedented recoveries for the U.S. government and taxpayers. $13.7 billion in back taxes, civil fines and penalties was repatriated to the U.S.
The outcome sent shockwaves throughout American financial institutions and changed international banking forever. From the fear that other Swiss bankers would blow the whistle to U.S. authorities and become multi-millionaires, the leaders of the Swiss banking community ended the practice of Swiss secrecy shielding U.S. off-shore accounts.
In his speech on National Whistleblower Day 2017, Birkenfeld emphasized the crucial role whistleblowers play in fraud detection, “Not only bringing back monies to the government and the taxpayers, but eradicating the crime. And the crime is the most important thing, because if you don’t get rid of the crime, it’s like a cancer. It will continue to grow.”
Birkenfeld explained that whistleblower rewards serve as a powerful incentive and can offset the huge risks and hardships many whistleblowers face for doing the right thing, “…people go through legal costs, pain and suffering, divorce, bankruptcy, humiliation and so forth”.
His story is a prime example of the importance of robust legal protections for whistleblowers and why every potential whistleblower should know their rights and obtain legal guidance to navigate the maze of whistleblower laws. It can be the difference between receiving a prison sentence or a financial reward!
• Watch the video below to see Bradley Birkenfeld’s whole speech from National Whistleblower Day 2017.
• Support NWC in advocating whistleblower rights.
• Know your rights: order The New Whistleblower’s Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Doing What’s Right and Protecting Yourself