Yesterday, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) and the Government Accountability Project (GAP) sent a letter to the Honorable William J. Zloch asking that he consider the potential public policy implications for whistleblowers in determining the appropriate sentence for prominent UBS whistleblower, Brad Birkenfeld.
For those unfamiliar with the details of Birkenfeld’s case, he was indicted by the Department of Justice (DoJ) for his admitted role in soliciting wealthy Americans to evade taxes through services provided by UBS. After working for Switzerland's largest bank for four years, Birkenfeld decided to approach the Department of Justice and the IRS about the bank's practices, which were going against internal memos and US law. He volunteered vital information about UBS's activities and subsequent investigations led to UBS agreeing to pay the US government $780 million. The DoJ began to investigate Birkenfeld only after he reached out to US agencies on his own accord. The Washington Post detailed the narrative earlier this week.
This historic case highlights the indispensable role whistleblowers play in fighting waste, fraud and abuse: Birkenfeld's initiative and cooperation were critical to the DoJ wrangling the biggest case of tax fraud in US history. With Birkenfeld facing up to five years in jail, POGO worries that an excessive sentence would spook potential whistleblowers from coming forward in the future. What kind of message will the DoJ send to whistleblowers? Stay tuned for our take on the court's announcement!
-- Jake Wiens
UPDATE: Two more groups have signed onto yesterday's letter to Judge Zloch: Integrity Line and Transparency International Switzerland.
UPDATE 2: Birkenfeld has been sentenced to three years and four months in prison.