Robert Scheer is the editor of Truthdig, where this article originally appeared. His latest book is The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America(Twelve).
One wonders if Phil Gramm has been made just a tad nervous by the news on Tuesday that one of UBS’s super-wealthy private clients has pleaded guilty to tax evasion. That’s the second case in two weeks involving the bank at which the former senator is a vice chairman, and 100 other clients are under investigation for possible bank-assisted tax fraud.
Gramm, the Republican former chair of the Senate Finance Committee, where he authored much of the deregulatory legislation at the heart of the current banking meltdown, has for the six years since he left office helped lead a foreign-owned bank specializing in tax dodges for the wealthy. These schemes by the Swiss-based UBS not only force the rest of us taxpayers to pay more to make up the government revenue shortfall but are blatantly illegal. In February, UBS admitted to having committed fraud and conspiracy and agreed to pay a fine of $780 million. Republican “Tea Baggers” take note: Offshore tax havens do not equal populist revolt.
In the UBS “deferred prosecution agreement” with the Justice Department, the bank agreed to turn over the names of its secret account holders to avoid a criminal indictment. The complicity of top executives in this far-ranging scheme to use foreign tax havens to cheat the US treasury of billions in uncollected taxes was noted at the time in a Justice Department statement: “Swiss bankers routinely traveled to the United States to market Swiss bank secrecy to United States clients interested in attempting to evade United States income taxes.”
What did Gramm think all of those Swiss bankers from his firm were doing over here? Was he totally clueless? The Justice Department statement suggests otherwise: “UBS executives knew that UBS’s cross-border business violated the law. They refused to stop this activity, however, and in fact instructed their bankers to grow the business. The reason was money–the business was too profitable to give up. This was not a mere compliance oversight, but rather a knowing crime motivated by greed and disrespect of the law.”