An ex-banker and convicted tax cheat who told the IRS how his employer, UBS, helped thousands of wealthy clients duck U.S. taxes has just been awarded $104 million by the U.S. government, a sum his lawyers say is the largest payout ever for a whistleblower.
Bradley Birkenfeld, who was released from federal prison six weeks ago, pleaded guilty in 2008 to helping American clients avoid paying federal income and other taxes to the IRS. As part of his plea, Birkenfeld confessed to helping businessman Igor Olenicoff conceal $200 million in assets and evade paying $7.2 million in taxes.
But while Birkenfeld was confessing his own sins, he also provided testimony that allowed the Justice Department to punish his employer, forcing UBS to admit that it had allowed its clients to evade taxes by hiding their assets offshore. In February 2009, under a deferred prosecution agreement, the company agreed to pay $780 million in criminal fines for offering tax haven accounts for U.S. clients. UBS agreed to release data on almost 5,000 client accounts.
“The IRS sent 104 million messages to whistle-blowers around the world — that there is now a safe and secure way to report tax fraud,” said the National Whistleblowers Center in a statement. “The IRS also sent 104 million messages to banks around the world – stop enabling tax cheats or you will get caught.”
According to Kohn and Zerbe, the $104 million award is the largest award to an individual whistleblower to date, and the first awarded to an IRS whistleblower.