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UBS Money Laundering: what did a prominent American politician know? PDF Print E-mail
News
Monday, 24 August 2009 10:21

Yet another wealthy private customer of the Swiss-based banking conglomerate UBS has admitted to criminal fraud. It is a case that threatens to involve former Senator Phil Gramm, the Texas Republican who is vice chairman of UBS’ investment banking business. Given the widespread involvement of UBS in what the American Justice Department alleges were systematic efforts to violate U.S. tax laws, the question has been posed: did Gramm as a top executive have no idea what was going on? 

For Gramm this has to be a moment that tests his ideological commitment to the radical deregulation of banking that he championed during his 24 years in Congress. He joined UBS soon after the bank acquired Enron, a company that subsequently went bankrupt. The bank’s involvement with tens of thousands of secret accounts tied to allegations of tax evasion raises more significant issues. Specifically, there is possible criminal fraud through practices that Gramm as a senator helped keep obscure.

In his last years in the Senate, Gramm succeeded in blocking legislation that, in the words of The New York Times, would have made it easier “to crack down on offshore tax havens” and “would have expanded rules that require banks to find out more about individuals and foreign jurisdictions they are dealing with.” The Times noted, “The legislation won bipartisan support but was blocked by Senator Gramm of Texas, a foe of government regulation.”

Gramm subsequently took up a senior position at UBS, stating: “It will provide me with an opportunity to practice what I’ve always preached..… I have a strange combination of experiences that a lot of people don’t have .… knowledge of economics, a knowledge of government policy.” Given that knowledge, it is reasonable to ask just how Gramm could have been unaware of the extensive efforts of his new employer, UBS, to thwart the American tax authorities. In court cases involving UBS over the past year, witnesses have provided extensive details of the bank’s alleged practices in assisting tax avoidance.   Got views on the above news?

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