US seeks reduced prison term for ex-UBS banker who was star witness in tax secrets case

The Associated Press
By CURT ANDERSON AP Legal Affairs Writer
MIAMI August 18, 2009 (AP)

A former Swiss banker should get a sharply reduced prison term for helping the U.S. government as a star witness in a wide-ranging tax evasion investigation of banking giant UBS AG, federal prosecutors said Tuesday. The banker contends his cooperation warrants no jail time at all.

The motions filed in federal court come a week after U.S. and Swiss governments settled out of court to end an IRS lawsuit against UBS. Under that deal, the Swiss agreed to let UBS name at least some wealthy U.S. clients behind 52,000 accounts, information that had been protected by the country’s vaunted bank secrecy laws.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey A. Neiman said in the motion that Bradley Birkenfeld, 43, had provided extensive cooperation. Because of that, he deserved no more than 2 1/2 years in federal prison, or half the five-year maximum for his guilty plea on a charge of conspiring to defraud the U.S.

Birkenfeld provided key information not only to U.S. prosecutors but also to foreign authorities investigating UBS, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Internal Revenue Service and a U.S. Senate panel.

“This substantial assistance has been timely, significant, useful, truthful, complete and reliable,” Neiman said in the motion.

Birkenfeld attorney Robert Stickney, in a motion filed later Tuesday, said his client deserved only five years’ probation for “extraordinary” cooperation that peeled back centuries of Swiss banking secrecy tradition. He said Birkenfeld first began raising concerns about questionable practices within UBS in 2005 and met numerous times before his indictment with U.S. investigators from several agencies.

“Simply stated, the nature and extent of the information that Mr. Birkenfeld provided to each of these government authorities was unprecedented,” Stickney wrote.

Birkenfeld, a UBS private banker who handled wealthy American clients from 2001 through 2006, pleaded guilty in June 2008 to a single count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. A federal judge in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is scheduled to sentence Birkenfeld on Friday, even though prosecutors and Birkenfeld’s defense attorney had asked for a delay.

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