First, the government threw Bradley Birkenfeld in prison for helping a former client at UBS AG hide his wealth from the Internal Revenue Service. Now, as part of the same case, the IRS has awarded the former banker $104 million — yes, million — for helping expose the widespread tax-evasion scheme by the Swiss banking behemoth.
The dizzyingly abrupt turnabout in Birkenfeld’s life leaves him with the largest government whistle-blower award ever to an individual, said Stephen M. Kohn, one of Birkenfeld’s attorneys and executive director of the National Whistle-blowers Center. The center is a nonpartisan group that defends employees’ disclosures of wrongdoing and waste.
The size of the award, announced Tuesday by Birkenfeld’s lawyers and confirmed by the IRS, reflects an investigation that resulted in UBS’ being fined $780 million. It also led to an unprecedented agreement requiring UBS to give the U.S. government the names of 4,700 Americans who had secret overseas accounts and the recovery by the IRS of $5 billion in back taxes and penalties from other taxpayers with overseas accounts under agency amnesty programs, Kohn said.