Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Lucifer's Banker

Lucifer's Banker by Bradley C. Birkenfeld
Greenleaf Book Group: 11/1/16
eBook review copy; 344 pages
ISBN-13: 9781626343719

Lucifer's Banker: The Untold Story of How I Destroyed Swiss Bank Secrecy by Bradley C. Birkenfeld is a recommended account of how one man took on the Swiss banking industry.

Working his way up in the banking industry, Bradley Birkenfeld was a success. He lived and worked in Switzerland as a private banker for the largest bank in the world, UBS. UBS specialized in providing the ultrawealthy the way to hide their money, especially from paying taxes. Birkenfeld knew how the game worked, with its secret numbered accounts and the tactics used to make sure their clients could have access to their millions with no penalties.

It came to his attention that UBS had buried deep in the bank's files an official policy in place to cover their backs if any government came asking about taxes. Birkenfeld realized that the policy would throw him and his co-workers under the bus while protecting the bank and the managers.  That was when he decided to take matters into his own hands and blow the whistle himself, telling the US government how the Swiss banking industry worked.

Birkenfeld brought his information to the Department of Justice first and was treated like he was wasting their time. The part about the Department of Justice is going to anger you, but it shouldn't really, given current events. It is no longer about justice but political maneuvering, Washington insiders, and cronyism. When Birkenfeld took his secrets to the US Senate, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Internal Revenue Service, he was finally taken seriously and action was taken.

Then, and this presents a perfect example of why the Department of Justice needs to be gutted and overhauled: "at the same time he was cooperating with the US Government, the Department of Justice was still doggedly pursuing him. He was arrested and served thirty months in federal prison." Birkenfeld writes: "The US Department of Justice was supposed to welcome me, protect me, thank me for being the first and only Swiss private banker to crack that impenetrable shell of Swiss secrecy and corruption, to ensure that American taxpayers would be cheated no more. But instead, the DOJ had reached out for my treasure trove with one slimy hand, and slapped cuffs on me with the other. Scumbags."

But Birkenfeld got the last laugh. "When he emerged, the Internal Revenue Service gave him a whistle-blower award for $104 million, the largest such reward in history." This is a fascinating account of inside the secret Swiss banking industry and our government’s justice system.

Lucifer's Banker is written in a conversational style as if Birkenfeld was sitting down with you telling his life's story. It does have rather a 007 feel to it, which is alluded to several times.

I guess the biggest problem for me, as a female reviewer, is it is also a bit too chauvinistic. There is a sexist boy's club vibe reflected in comments throughout the book - like older 007 movies - and numerous times beautiful "girls" are mentioned as sex objects and play things. Comments like "gorgeous girls who care only about pleasing you and having a great time" and this not-very-amusing-to-me story: "I’d decided to take a companion along. Marketa was a bar hostess in Prague—tall, slim, pretty, and just turned twenty-two. She’d never been to the United States, so my invitation to fly business class, party in Hollywood, and then see some hot lava put a smile on her face. She was a sweet girl, innocent in many ways, and she gasped when I booked us into the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills. Did we have a good time? Let’s just say there’s nothing quite like gratitude sex. I called her my 'Czech Mate,' which she didn’t get, but I amused myself."
Not so cool. Not so amusing.

So, in the end this is an interesting book and a riveting account about whistle blowing on the Swiss banking industry and corruption in the Department of Justice. It's also written, in my opinion, for male readers or stories like the one above, and there are more than one, would have been left out. To reflect this I left a star out and lowered my rating. It would be a much better book had the stories of sexual escapades been left out and Birkenfeld concentrated on telling us the important facts with some measure of acknowledgment that women who were not interested in "gratitude sex" would be reading the book too.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the publisher/author.

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