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The UBS file, the French justice and the American justice

The UBS file, the French justice and the American justice

Publié le 26 févr. 2021 Mis à jour le 26 févr. 2021
time 7 min

The UBS file, the French justice and the American justice

On January 21st, 2014 I asked to be heard by the American justice in reference to the trial of Mr Raoul Weil. As a Number 3 at UBS and a Managing Director of UBS Wealth Management, he was directly leading the operations in Americas, Europe and Asia. Suspected to have organized the tax evasion of more than 20,000 American citizens for an amount reaching twenty billion US dollars, Raoul Weil pleaded not guilty about the charges against him, recognizing that he had no responsibility in the tax evasion system implemented by UBS. During the autumn of 2014, he was released by a Florida court. This decision of the Florida justice is surprising when one knows that the USA has made the banks pay huge amounts after being sentenced in tax evasion cases. In 2009, UBS had to pay an amount of 780 million US dollars after an agreement with the US authorities and when Mrs Hillary Clinton was then Secretary of State.

The banks pay very high fines because they have committed the fraud. However the managers of the banks, those who design the commercial strategies and have them implemented by their bankers are not sentenced. My request remained unanswered. How can one then qualify the American justice if it does not even listen to key witnesses of those files whilst it claims to be fighting tax evasion?

After the rescue plan of the banks because they are ‘too big to fail’, the US media have exposed a ‘too rich to jail’ when Raoul Weil was released, which tends to prove the incestuous relations between the banking industry, the justice and their country’s political leaders. After being under investigation in France, Raoul Weil could be afraid to be sentenced, but unlike the other UBS managers, he was made not guilty during the 2018 trial. Dieter Kiefer, former President of the Advisory Board of UBS France and former top manager of the Western Europe Division at UBS was sentenced to a suspended eighteen month jail sentence and a Eur 300,000 fine. As far as I am concerned, I was very surprised of this decision because in 2009 I had received an Email from a UBS executive in Switzerland, which was precisely revealing:  "I have always said that Raoul W. was making lots of mistakes by constantly changing the structures. Kiefer quite agreed with me. This is the reason why many client advisors leave the bank. It's a shame. After all, he also pays for the "mistakes" he has made". 

 

We must also know that Washington pays those who work with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Bradley Birkenfeld, a former banker at UBS who left the bank in 2005, spent thirty months behind bars and cashed a check in the amount of one hundred and four million US dollars when released. I have even heard said that he would cash between five and twenty additional million US dollars per year during the next ten years, as the IRS will receive the amounts back from the UBS offshore clients, those relating to a certain number of pieces of information provided by Birkenfeld.

 

I was in Washington DC on September 4th, 2014 when I was informed that President Obama was regularly playing golf with the former boss of UBS Investment Bank. A year later, during summer 2015, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post, among others, were informing their readers that the Clinton Foundation had privileged links with UBS. In reality, Bill Clinton had been paid for conferences given to UBS in the amount of 1.5 million US dollars. The donations made by the bank to the Clinton Foundation would have significantly increased after the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had to manage the Swiss bank tax evasion scandal.

One of my American acquaintances, a specialist in banking communication, explained to me that the verdict relating to Raoul Weil’s case was not a surprise because only a few elements were against the former Number 3 at UBS. As a matter of fact, Eric Holder, General Attorney of the United States at the time of the facts, worked for UBS whilst he was one of the Associates of the lawyer firm Covington & Burling between 2001 and 2008, precisely at the very moment when Raoul Weil was the Director of UBS Wealth Management. According to my source, the USA did not present enough elements against the business model of the international network of the bank and against Raoul Weil, which would prove, according to this person, that “a conspiracy to default the Ministries of Finances of the concerned countries was a party to the UBS economic model on an international scale”. Furthermore, an article of the National Whistleblowers Center alerted about the conflicts of interest between the bank lobbyists and the IRS, which would explain why the justice showed clemency towards Raoul Weil.

This person whom I met in Washington D.C. in September 2014 analyses that “the United States of America has a very serious problem of governance. Swiss banks have key contacts within the White House, such as Robert Wolf, friend of Raoul Weil, who organized fundraisings at his property for President Obama. They also have key contacts within the Department of Justice, the Treasury, the Capitol and many other institutions. The crucial part of the banking file lies in the fact that Swiss banks manage hundreds of billions of US dollars in their PEP (politically exposed persons) accounts, which will always be useful for them to obtain the help of political leaders to defend their interests”. Furthermore, this person reminded me that Steve Kohn, the American lawyer who had among others defended the interests of my former colleague Bradley Birkenfeld, by that time had stressed that “Raoul Weil has a deep knowledge of the ultra-secret program developed for the PEPs quite simply because all the bankers are being asked to report the political activities of their clients. The PEPs are top governmental personalities and very rich individuals in the world who try to hide dirty money, illegally obtained because of the corruption, back commissions and other illegal activities”. Mitt Romney, the candidate running for the 2008 Presidential election hit the headlines when his then revealed Swiss bank account was closed in 2010, curiously just after the agreement signed with UBS.

This specialist in banking communication knows the subject very well and continued arguing that “Raoul Weil’s defense is based on the fact that neither the former Number 3 nor the Board of Directors of UBS in Switzerland would have been aware of the illicit actions of the banks in the United States of America. The truth is that the economic model of UBS and one of the other Swiss players have existed and continue everywhere in the world and not only in Europe. The fraudulent concealment of financial assets, tax evasion and money laundering are the reasons why the bank is under investigation and will have to answer about its schemes in several European countries. Furthermore, the amount paid by UBS to the United States is for the bank the equivalent of a ‘parking ticket’! Unfortunately things will never change as long as the USA will not sign the OECD agreements about the automatic exchange of information even though they have forced all the countries to sign them”.

Hence, despite President Obama’s intention via a 2008 statement to “tell the lobbyists that the time when they set up the agenda in Washington is over […]”, it has not prevented the US President from appointing William J. Wilkins, lobbyist of the Swiss Bankers Association, as the IRS chief counsel.

Is this for all these reasons that Switzerland only gave access to information relating to 4,450 UBS accounts? Who could - who can - be the ones having the 45.000 other bank accounts?

The specialist in banking communication asked if I had read the book ‘Confessions d’un banquier pourri' (Crésus, Confessions d’un banquier pourri, Fayard, Paris, 2009) - Confessions of a Rotten Banker - which quotes the Swiss Colonel Konrad Hummler threatening the European Union. Konrad Hummler was one of the most powerful bankers in Switzerland. He has headed NZZ (Neue Zürcher Zeitung)he has been a member of the Board of Directors of the powerful Swiss Bankers Association and had been the President of the bank Wegelin. In the USA, the colonel has been indicted for fraud. The bank Wegelin, which has recovered the assets of several UBS clients, had been sold to the Raiffaisen Bank and is nowadays known as the Notenstein Bank. According to this former banker, “the Swiss are convinced that all the European governments and the European Commission have good reasons to fear them because they keep the hidden financial assets of the PEPs of all the European governments secret. For the same reason, they also think that not a single US government can stop them because they also hide the illicit financial assets of the American politicians”. It would be a good practice that Switzerland could threaten the European governments that they would disclose the accounts of their Ministers and of their Presidents.

Would the US declared willingness - whilst minimum in the facts - to protect the American citizens have a link with the small amount by my former employer when signing the agreement? The French file could have helped the US justice, exactly as the US investigation about Raoul Weil could help the French justice. Do our justice systems collaborate? Are they willing to and how do they work? As I have never been listened to neither by the French justice nor by the American one, I feel I am justified to ask this question.

In June 2014, a former UBS colleague and I questioned the French government in a press release. In fact, Raoul Weil was regularly visiting French clients in their properties, in their companies or was meeting them during events organized by the UBS Group whilst he was serving as a President. However not even one political leader reacted. It is time for the French people as well as other European people to react and wonder about the reasons of such passivity because UBS has acted the same way in Portugal, Spain, Germany, Belgium, Greece etc.

As far as its strategy is concerned, the analysis by a former Swiss colleague speaks for itself. According to him, “our former employer negotiates fines in all the countries in the world. Avoiding trials, thus avoiding to be potentially sentenced, UBS keepon communicating, taking great pride in the fact that it has never been sentenced… It allows the bank to claim that it is a ‘clean’ bank”. As Raoul Weil has been released by the French courts, only time will tell if and in which country or countries the former Number 3 at UBS will be found guilty. As far as the bank is concerned, it counts getting out of trouble in France while "invoking a contract of international law which the European Union has signed with Switzerland (...) relying on a 2004 rate tax agreement". Interesting piece of news.

Whereas the 40.000 UBS bank accounts were passed by Switzerland to the French Ministry of Finances, we know that the French justice is not allowed to make use of the information. Would it be to make the citizens believe, with the help of the mainstream media, that Jerome Cahuzac, former French Minister of Budget, was an isolated case and thus avoid the collapsing of the country of human rights? The UBS appeal at court to take place from March 8 - 24, 2021 will be to follow closely.

Photo:  Bill Oxford on Unsplash

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