A cautionary tale for whistleblowers
Colleague David S. Hilzenrath penned an incredibly well-reported story for Sunday's Post about the travails of Bradley Birkenfeld, a former Swiss banker who knew secrets that eventually led UBS to admit it helped Americans dodge taxes and paid the government $780 million.
Three years ago, communicating with his Washington lawyers from Swiss hotels and pay phones to avoid discovery, Birkenfeld began a delicate and dangerous dance with the U.S. government. He wanted to stake a claim under a new federal whistleblower law that offers informants up to 30 percent of the tax revenue they help the IRS recoup. Before spilling his secrets to federal investigators, he also wanted immunity from prosecution for his participation in the cross-border scheme.
Birkenfeld's story turned into a cautionary tale for would-be informants and a test of the U.S. government's attitude toward them. Should people who come forward with inside knowledge of a crime be rewarded, punished -- or both? Can the government simultaneously woo such whistleblowers with financial enticements and threaten them with incarceration?
Birkenfeld and the saga surrounding well-known whistleblower Robert MacLean should remind anyone eager to come forward with information that the fight can be long, lonely and costly.
(Also check out David's recent Q&A with the head of the IRS whistleblower agency.)
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| May 17, 2010; 11:44 AM ET
Categories: From The Pages of The Post, Workplace Issues
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Posted by: dalilab | May 18, 2010 11:30 AM | Report abuse
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