January 5, 2010 / 10:30 PM / 10 years ago

UBS whistleblower seeks probe of government lawyers

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lawyers for the whistleblower who helped in the U.S. tax probe of Swiss bank UBS AG asked the government on Tuesday to probe Justice Department lawyers for allegedly making false statements about his case.

The National Whistleblowers Center, representing former UBS banker Bradley Birkenfeld as he fights the government over his role in helping a billionaire evade taxes, filed a complaint with the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, seeking an internal investigation and correction of the court’s records related to the case.

The complaint comes a day after a U.S. judge upheld Birkenfeld’s 40-month prison sentence, set to begin on Friday. Although U.S. officials credit Birkenfeld for a key role in exposing wrongdoing at UBS, they prosecuted him because they say he refused to provide vital information about his own role.

Birkenfeld, a U.S. citizen, went to the U.S. government in 2007 with details of tax evasion practices at the Swiss bank. The U.S. government later won changes to the bank’s practices, a $780 million settlement and the promise of the names of thousands of suspected tax cheats.

Prosecutors contend that Birkenfeld was unwilling to give details of work he personally did for his client, California billionaire named Igor Olenicoff, who eventually was indicted and pled guilty for tax evasion.

The whistleblower’s group says that Justice Department attorneys were not speaking the truth when they said Birkenfeld refused to cooperate. They say the DOJ is at fault for not providing a subpoena sought by Birkenfeld, so he would be protected under Swiss law.

“While Mr. Birkenfeld did not disclose Olenicoff’s identity at his initial meeting with the Justice Department in June 2007, he refused only because he was still a resident of Switzerland, and could not disclose Mr. Olenicoff without violating Swiss law,” the group’s lawyers wrote in a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Mary Patrice Brown, acting counsel of DOJ’s office of professional responsibility.

A U.S. Justice Department spokesman was not available for comment.

Birkenfeld pleaded guilty to a single fraud conspiracy count in June 2008, when he acknowledged helping his largest U.S. client hide assets.

No other UBS banker has received jail time in connection with the case.

The case is USA v. Birkenfeld et al, U.S. District Court Southern District of Florida, No. 08-cr-60099.

Former UBS client Juergen Homann, who the government accuses of hiding $6.1 million in UBS accounts, is set to be sentenced in a hearing tomorrow in Newark, New Jersey.

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