The Financial Industry: Murderer Number 1 of the Whistleblowers
The Financial Industry: Murderer Number 1 of the Whistleblowers
We do not negotiate with a banker, any more than we would negotiate with a terrorist.
Hervé Falciani, HBSC whistleblower (Swiss Leaks)
The Power of the Banks is harmful to us all
It is now proven that the excesses of the banking industry have caused precariousness, debt and mass-unemployment. For everyone to understand the stakes of finance, all the schools in the world should play to their pupils the ‘TEDx talk’ by Jérôme Cazes entitled “A Financial Transition for the Planet” that was recorded in Clermont-Ferrand on October 22nd, 2016. This ten-minute public talk by the former managing director of the COFACE (company specialized in credit insurance, part of the Natixis group) explains with a learner-centered approach that “banks are the most powerful private organizations in the world” and that “large banks have turned into a public threat because they are poisoned by market finance” (…) and that it is “our responsibility to bring them back to serve the general interest”.
The sociologist Jean Ziegler also tackles the financial system when he observes that “the financial sector shares a great part of the responsibility because the largest banks haven’t stopped playing on the food trade market. At the same time, one billion people are seriously underfed. Each second, a child dies of hunger”.
Unfortunately, Mr. Ziegler’s alerts are perhaps akin to crying in the wilderness because we learnt at the end of year 2020 that water, just like wheat and oil, was traded on the US stock exchange. As highlighted by Augustin Langlade in his article published in the French independent media La Releve et la Peste: “If the XXth century was the one of black gold, the XXIst century could then become the one of the blue gold. The rarer the water, the more profitable it will be. Financiers understand it, this is why they are trying to achieve new markets while pushing States to privatize the national distribution systems”. This article reminds us that the Mexican civilians have been suffering from the lack of water, important grants being managed by multinational companies, Coca-Cola being one of them. The development and stock market price of multinationals seem to be more important to the financiers rather than caring about the fact that water is an 'unalienable collective resource'.
The banking scandals have all demonstrated that offshore finance, thanks to its opacity and its lack of control, has the perversity to mix in some of the clean money with the dirty one. Which very clearly means that being a whistleblower alerting about the wrongdoings of the finance industry, is attacking the heart of the excesses of the economical activity and of the ones who would be our ‘elites’; a battle we have been fighting for more than ten years and which de facto explains why we have never been protected nor supported by the men elected to lead our so-called democratic countries, and namely the ‘country of the human rights’.
During a conference given in Paris on September 21st, 2015 with her husband Michel Pinçon, Monique Pinçon-Charlot declared that the violence in the vocabulary used towards the people is the feature of what she calls the “feodal system”. She analyses that “amongst the wealthiest of us, there is a new type of society that is formed into business, industry and the top public sector (those named as ‘The Top 5000’). Plutocracy - From the Greek words ploutos and kratos: Government by the richest people of a country. Nowadays, the lobbies represented by the multinational companies enjoy a very close relation with our elected representatives and de facto influence the texts of the laws - is obsessed by enrichment. The double-blade of its weapon of war is on one side to subjugate citizens to public deficit and debt – otherwise everyone would have a job and would eat one’s fill – and on the other side, tax optimization which has become anatural fraud being transmitted from one generation to another because it is a class fraud”. Banking scandals have all proven that offshore banking, thanks to its opacity and its lack of control, has the perversity to mix clean and dirty money. The statements made by Monique Pinçon-Charlot very clearly mean that being a whistleblower exposing information about offshore finance is fighting the core of the wrongdoings of the economic activity and the so-called ‘elites’.
The foundation of our societies is clearly questioned as we face a banking industry which is qualified by some as criminal: corruption, fraud, money laundering, tax evasion, double accounting; all of which have caused precariousness, unemployment and misery in Europe and everywhere in the world. Some grow richer year after year unscrupulously whilst others die slowly by inches for years – exactly like the frog slowly and gently cooked. Without banks, financial transactions wouldn’t exist. The worst part is that nobody controls the banks. The scandals of Julius Baer, SwissLeaks, LuxLeaks and UBS but also the Panama and Paradise Papers as well as the Malta files have proven that these malfunctions were possible because they were taking place in the dark - thanks to that opacity which is the ideal breeding ground for the prosperity of the banking industry or otherwise referred to as bank secrecy.
The finance world brings pressure on the justice system and on the elected representatives everywhere in the world. Finance is the strongest assassin because without finance there would be no opacity (bank secrecy), no tax havens, nor currency transfers. This is why it is the most powerful assassin ever. Without finance, the hidden commissions would not be immune any more than any other acts of corruption. Is it worth remembering that bank secrecy only exists to avoid submission to the laws of the Republic?
Regardless of the sector of activity concerned, all the whistleblowers expose malfunctions which have brought large sums of money to the ones they accuse. These sums obviously transit through banks and most of the time the money was poured into undeclared offshore bank accounts.
Senator Eric Bocquet explained that he had made the observation of the massive and significant scale of the damage of tax evasion when he began to be interested in the subject as a Rapporteur of the Committee of Inquiry into Tax Evasion at the Senate – 1,000 billion euros in tax evasion in Europe on a yearly basis. Otherwise, he realized the importance of the ‘Financial Engineering’ industry, which sets up tax optimization plans managed by specialists who organize a perfect tax evasion. He repeated these words to Pierre Gabas, a producer at Fayaprod at the beginning of 2017 with a comical expression “One has succeeded to legislate on the curve of the cucumber or of the banana and one is unable to legislate on taxes and social rights” by quoting the Oxfam NGO: “Eight billionaires in the world today, but sixty-two last year and three hundred and forty-eight three years ago possess as many assets as three and a half billion people. Poverty soars (…) whilst the largest banks have gained twenty-five billion in profits from tax havens this year”. “One euro out of four from the profits of the twenty largest European banks ends up in tax havens, i.e. twenty-fivebillion dollars in 2015. (…) Each citizen pays the price for this crime”. This ran as a headline on the Oxfam NGO web site on the eve of the world week of actions against tax evasion that started on Saturday, April 1st,2017 on the occasion of the first anniversary of the publication of millions of documents disclosed from the Panamanian lawyer’s firm Mossack Fonseca.
During an informal encounter with the Socialist Deputy Gérard Filoche, we discussed tax evasion and my experience at UBS. Gérard Filoche did not mince his words when he brought up the subject of finance. He declared during the February 11th, 2015 programme entitled ‘Un soir à la tour Eiffel’ (An Evening at the Eiffel Tower) that tax evasion in Europe is “twice the debt of all the countries within the Euro zone which would resolve the crisis. It would suffice to take the money back from the thieves. LuxLeaks: 2,400 billion euros from three hundred and forty companies among which fifty-eight French multinationals who, instead of paying taxes to our Republic, to allow help for unemployed people to find a job, to allow better hospitals, better schools, cheated in Luxembourg with the complicity of Jean-Claude Juncker, who imposed each European country to have a balanced budget - looking straight in the eyes, like Jérôme Cahuzac, our former Minister of Budget, when he lied to us at the National Assembly about his own offshore bank accounts. […]I do not understand how the European people cannot be revolted by such a scandal. Every French citizen must understand that it is he himself who has been robbed. Tax evasion costs France eighty billion euros per year, related the Minister of Finances”.
According to the association Tax Justice Network, tax havens shelter 20,000 billion US dollars. As it has been demonstrated, French banks are not left out and BNP Paribas, the first of the French banks, would hold one hundred and seventy subsidiaries in tax havens, five of them in the Cayman Islands. However if the roots of the international economic crisis come from the offshore financial centers then large centers, such as London, Switzerland, Luxembourg or the state of Delaware in the United States of America have powerfully contributed to the development of this crisis, according to the web site of the Tax Justice Network NGO. Do banks continue to imagine that citizens, when reading about the numerous press releases relating to the excesses of this industry, feel that it is no concern of theirs?
When Pierre Moscovici was the French Minister of Finances, he decided in 2014 that Jersey and Bermuda should be removed from the black list of tax havens while it is nowadays public knowledge that these two countries are major actors in offshore financeand regarding transparency of information. As far as the British Virgin Islands are concerned, they were removed from the black list of tax havens in 2015 as the French Ministry of Finances announced that cooperation was operating smoothly. However, in the scope of the ‘Football Leaks’, the weekly satirical publication Le Canard Enchaîné disclosed on December 7th, 2016 that the archipelago sheltered offshore companies and accounts of a certain number of football players. As far as Panama is concerned, it was removed from the black list at the beginning of 2012 before being re-instated during spring 2016 after the disclosure of the Panama Papers scandal.
In spite of the numerous talks, there have been numerous financial scandals in recent years, not only with the Football Leaks, but also the Dubai Papers, Mauritius Files, the Cumex fraud - “The CumEx transactions are not simply tax evasion, but organised fraud. The banks had taxes refunded to them they never paid.” - or the Danske Bank, scandal which would be the most important network of money laundering in the world.
Unfortunately, the football stadiums have not emptied, the supporters turned away from this corrupted industry and continue to support the clubs and players of their heart. Middle classes continue to pay their taxes often without asking themselves questions, they sometimes cannot but kowtow or complain.
Banks are powerful vacuum cleaners at the heart of our countries. Without banks there would not be any financial transactions nor tax havens. In France, specialists agreed these past years on the figure of eighty billion euros that would leave the country on a yearly basis. In September 2018 however, the weekly Marianne published an article as per a survey of Solidaires - Finances publiques, the largest trade union of the taxes, where the readers were informed that tax evasion would now reach 100 billion euros because 3,100 jobs of controllers were recently axed.
Fighting Tax Evasion is hypocritical
Since we have seen the Romanian people demonstrate in the streets against the rampant corruption of their elites in February 2017, we are allowed to ask ourselves whether democracy would not come from the Eastern side of our continent. In France, do we have a tacit agreement with the corruption? Doesn’t each one of us agree with this excess at the highest level? In the context of the 2017 French Presidential election, we saw that a candidate criticized or threatened judges of retaliation. Jean-Christophe Picard, President of the Association Anticor recalled that “the President of the French Republic is responsible for the independence of the judicial authority”. He declared that “in this context, the adoption of an amendment by the Parliament planning a twelve-year prescription delay of facts occur for ‘secret or concealed’ breaches of the law was an opacity premium. This should not make the fight against corruption easier because it is naturally secret or concealed!” “A real premium for financial fraud” denounced the Mediapart journalist Martine Orange on February 17th, 2017.
After the publication of his book entitled “La Médiocratie” (The Mediocracy), the Canadian philosopher from Quebec, Alain Deneault declared on January 16th, 2017 to the magazine Le Point that the ones who refuse to “play the game” (here one could think of whistleblowers) are “symbolically killed to punish a lack of allegiance to the network”. According to him, this would have generated “corrupted institutions and organizations in the strong sense, in the sense where the representatives of institutions often lose sight of what is their own foundation, in favour of issues that have nothing to do with their social and historical merit”. This definition fits perfectly with the banking industry and to the excesses widely talked about for the past ten years.
Beyond the seriousness of the frauds committed by UBS in France and elsewhere in the world, even more shocking is the responsibility of our political leaders. Apart from a declared desire to fight against fraud which they make clear during their speeches, nothing at all has been done in the last ten years for our actions to be valued and for justice to stop prosecuting those who disclose information whilst exploiting that information in their investigations.
The confiscatory tax has created excesses and, by definition, has created the desire for some to hold undeclared offshore accounts. In France, the so-called ‘Bettencourt’ and ‘Cahuzac’ scandals, each of which connected to UBS – would obviously have burst the ‘verrou de Bercy’ (lock at the French Ministry of Finances)! It is nonsense that only France has that secret and grants the Minister of Budget the monopoly in the decisions relating to tax evasion prosecutions. Clearly, the Minister of Budget Jérôme Cahuzac was the only one who could pursue the same Cahuzac Jérôme ‘tax evader’ – for tax evasion and have him prosecuted. Even if the recent laws ‘opened the lock’ for amounts above €100K, one must bring to an end these dishonest compromises in our Republic!
When Pierre Moscovici denied in 2017 that there are no tax paradises in the European Union, does he really stand on the side of the citizens? Or is it worth reminding him that the practices of tax optimization within Europe are denounced everywhere?
The Whistleblower facing the banking Industry
Numerous testimonials from former bank employees agree on the fact that every time a professional issue arises in this industry, the employer wants to negotiate the departure of the employee against hard cash. The rule is simple: everything can be bought, even – and especially – the silence.
Ida de Chavagnac, a financial analyst working for the French bank Crédit Agricole contacted me as my first book (La Femme qui en savait vraiment trop, Cherche Midi) was being published. She was dismissed in 2014, after alerting her superiors about breaches of banking regulations however she still strives to continue her approach to the alerting process. This whistleblower did not wish to negotiate her departure because she explained that this would mean accepting a sum of money as a commitment to keep silent. She continues alerting on a legal point of view, asking the Employment Tribunal to cancel her dismissal whilst filing a complaint forattempted criminal corruption. At the Employment Tribunal, she had asked to be reinstated within a branch of the bank (Crédit Agricole) because she explained that she attaches a great value to her job and to its compliance aspect. One can only give reason to this woman of honour. Indeed can one really be considered as a whistleblower when acting with sincerity and is disinterested with negotiating one’s silence for an amount of money?
UBS has rarely communicated in the media since the daily newspaper Le Monde published a long series of articles in February 2016 entitled “How UBS has organized a Massive Tax Evasion Fraud in France”. The President of UBS France however had anticipated this article whilst giving an interview on February 10th, 2016 to the daily newspaper Le Parisien and where he naturally denigrated me: “Stephanie Gibaud discredited herself. She had declared that her experience was worse than a rape”. He added that UBS “would sign at once a procedure to plead guilty” and “if there was a possibility of such an agreement”. Surprisingly, the lawyer defending UBS clearly stated the opposite during his argument of defense on February 2nd, 2017 at the Tribunal de Grande Instance (TGI) and we were informed on March 17th, 2017 that UBS refused a negotiation which, according to their statements, “is not at the market price” (sic), UBS was acting to “defend the interest of its shareholders” or “the interest of its employees”. There are several variations that have been reported by the media.
This extremist culture of denial is the one used by many political leaders who have been accused of having offshore bank accounts and having cashed back commissions bound to corruption files. The language elements they use are perfectly identical. They position themselves as the victims when facing the citizens who are the whistleblowers. In 2013, when I was at the Employment Tribunal facing the UBS lawyer for what is legally called a conciliation, this man, a lawyer and who knows the law, had insisted on the fact that no conciliation was possible with me since I was the one who had been constantly harassing UBS for several years. The inversion of values that they verbally master is only made possible thanks to stock phrases of an unheard-of violence.
How to put on a new Light?
The principal players of the banking industry qualify themselves as experts. The sole purpose of the communication about their knowledge, scope of activities and skills, is to promote their ‘superiority’, that is, to make people believe that they cannot understand anything because of the high technicality of finance. This reaches the very principals of economy and obviously prevents citizens from acting.
One can then wonder why tax inspectors have not been massively hired for the past ten years, namely in France, to recover the missing amounts of our national finances. There may be a tendency to think that these civil servants could help recover the offshore accounts more quickly as most of those accounts are undeclared. Especially in the context of a certain number of ‘elites’ daily conveying in the media that we live in a crisis, that the cost of labour is too high, that pensions must be lowered because life expectancy is longer etc. In a word, if there is not a single coin left in the bank of our country, it’s the fault of the middle class and of the poorest families.
An inspector shared with me the fact that the government tax authority continues cutting jobs (two civil servants out of three) whilst first limiting access to the general public and, in parallel, is concerned to show to the French public opinion its will to fight fraud without using or having the means to succeed. In the context where life has become difficult for many working French people, where six million are unemployed and two million children do not eat to satisfy their hunger on a daily basis in our country, it’s a shame! Hospitals suffer the lack of means, so do the schools and the police without mentioning the deficit of the social security which every French person has heard about for the past forty years – and no solution has ever been found and it is not going away.
One wants to make us believe that everything has changed, that fighting tax evasion has become stronger, but this is false. The finance world still thrives. In the 1990s, the French singer Bernard Lavilliers was singing: “How is the bank going? (…) For the great sharks there is no sinking” (Bernard Lavilliers, Troisièmes couteaux, 1994). Until it is proven otherwise, tax payers who respect the laws are more often punished than the corruptors and the corrupted ones. Bankers continue to deny their responsibilities. They are not personally condemned, fined and do not receive criminal sentences. The tax evader who goes through the regularization cell opened at the Ministry of Finances in France does not make the headlines and does not go to jail, except in extremely rare cases. The work of the justice system is fundamental in its rapidity to enforce the decisions regarding the actors of the finance industry. In the United States of America, the UBS file was managed in a year or so. Almost one billion US dollars were asked when a settlement was signed after UBS recognized the facts. In France, the judicial procedure of the UBS file has entered its tenthyear for a result we still do not know about even in February 2021. UBS, in spite of being sentenced €4.5 billion, the highest fine ever in France, still denies doing anything wrong. The appeal trial will take place from March 8th until 24th, 2021.
Financial Times cover page - February 21st, 2019
The automatic exchange of information should have become the ultimate tool to fight fraud. The attitude of the United States of America proves it. Not only has this country been able to recover the hidden money of its tax payers by first putting pressure on the tax haven that was Switzerland, but it has also imposed the FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) tax legislation on all the countries in the world. Every financial organization that manages the assets of US citizens must declare them to the IRS (Internal Revenue Service). In 2013, France adopted this legislation while signing an inter-government agreement. Unfortunately, the United States of America has refused to sign a reciprocity agreement – the one advocated by the OECD on automatic exchange of information – which means accepting to be transparent themselves as far as the bank accounts of foreign citizens in their territory. We know today that the United States of America has thus become one of the most important tax havens in the world.
During the autumn of 2016, a contact in Argentina informed me that a Swiss bank (the name of which sounded familiar to me) had refused to give information relating to one of their citizens who had, according to the Argentinians, an offshore account in the amount of thirty million Swiss francs. The reason given was that the file would not have been sufficiently substantiated. As far as France is concerned, one was informed at the end ofJuly 2018 that a Swiss Courtwas adopting the same position while blocking information regarding 40,000 offshore accounts held by French citizens at UBS in Switzerland mentioning that “France did not prove evidence that the taxpayers involved have failed to comply with their tax obligations”. However, after several years of hard battles, a Switzerland court ruled in July 2019 that the data be handled to the French authorities.
We could also consider creating an International Fund towards ethics, on which a certain number of associations and citizens already work. In July 2016, I approached Sergio Ermotti, the Chief Executive Officer of UBS on this subject: “The purpose of this Fund is to give a long-term vision to our societies; this is why it is being launched internationally and will partly be developed thanks to crowdfunding platforms.
To this end, the media worldwide will receive confirmation of our will to create this Fund: The legacy which all of us will leave to our children and to the future generations must indeed be the one of a much cleaner planet and a paradigm where all of them – and each of them – will have the possibility to thrive in a secure and peaceful world.
Nowadays, it is clear that logics, anticipation, intelligence and skills do not give added value to political decisions nor economic visions. […] In the same way as the Fund is being suggested to your direct competitors, I am hereby proposing to your bank that we work with a long-term vision and serve your honorable clients i.e.the clients who clearly refuse the commissions and the financing of arms trafficking or gunrunning, the ones who totally ignore the massive profits when speculating on population hunger, commodities and other extremely profitable but immoral mechanisms. In other words, we would serve the clients of yours who believe in life and in the future”.
Almost five years later, as I write these lines, the silence of the bank UBS is golden like that which rests in the vaults in Geneva, Switzerland. Dead silence.
Some people have however found solutions. Iceland, this island lost in northern Europe, populated by 300,000 inhabitants, hit the headlines in 2008 because it was virtually bankrupt. Bankers were imprisoned whilst the people, who were polled by referendum, refused to reimburse the debts of the country towards the Netherlands and the United Kingdom in the amount of five billion euros. The government was dismissed, bankers and political leaders were arrested and banks were nationalized. The Icelandic economy boomed with a growth rate reaching 3% in 2016 - 2017. In spite of these interesting decisions, the Prime Minister of Iceland’s name was part of the Panama Papers, involving the Panamanian lawyers’ office of Mossack Fonseca which was housing the offshore bank accounts of prominent personalities. Resembling Jérôme Cahuzac, the former French Minister of Budget, the Icelandic political leader denied that he had undeclared bank accounts whilst facing the TV cameras. The Icelandic people however did not accept to be fooled and began manifesting in the streets. The Prime Minister had to resign in the process.
In France, the names of several prominent political leaders appeared in the famous Panama Papers. Which French citizens know their names? Who is interested in the scandal? France is a country where everyone wants to change the world at the Café but where it is culturally difficult to be courageous in order to oppose the ones representing the political, economic and intellectual elite. The whistleblowers of the Panama Papers have, until now, been right to stay anonymous.
The best solution seems to work together on an international scale. Marisa Matias, a Portuguese Deputy at the European Parliament (group NGE / GLE) and who ran for the Presidential election in 2016, wished to interview me in Luxembourg in November 2015. She opened the debate explaining that my audition in Brussels several months before had left certain Euro Deputies in a state of shock after having listened to my situation in France due to my whistleblowing at UBS. On that day, I explained to a Commission of Greek, Spanish, Portuguese and Luxembourg Euro Deputies, the absolute necessity to take concerted action to fight tax evasion together and to harmonize protection laws as soon as possible.
In July 2014, I was contacted by Belgian customs officers in order to testify about my experience and to assist them in their investigation. UBS Belgium was placed under investigation on February 26th, 2016 for serious and organized tax evasion. At the end of 2016, I was asked by the Greek Ministry of Justice to help identify potential acts of prevention and sanctions after the search that took place in the offices of UBS in Athens a year earlier. Furthermore, Greece is preparing a law to protect their citizens who stand for the general interest and would like to hear my recommendations as far as the protection of whistleblowers is concerned.
A year before, a representative member of the AFIP (Administración Federal de Ingresos Publicos) in Argentina wanted that I would testify about the international offshore system implemented by UBS on the South-American continent. Thanks to Claudio Julio Rodrigues Arias, a specialist in tax criminal law, we were able to work together and deepen the issues of internal and external mechanisms of prevention of tax evasion. (The association Tax Justice Network studied the factors of this ‘crisis’ in 2009). In June 2015, I was officially invited to the Embassy of Argentina in Paris, welcomed by the then Ambassadress Maria del Carmen Squeff and the Federal Administrator of the AFIP, Ricardo Etchegaray, to give a conference to Argentinian Deputies and Senators. I explained how private banks are working to capture clients by helping them to avoid paying taxes. In front of those elected representatives, I also expressed my hope to make Pope Francis sensitive to the theme of the correlation between misery and tax evasion in the names of all the resistance fighters and strugglers for the truth and the social good, so that His Holiness could bring the message to the Heads of States. I also called for bringing to the agenda and the heart of the G20 the essential question of the protection of the citizens who stand up against corruption and the security, support and the protection of whistleblowers. Unfortunately, the continuation of this collaboration came to nothing. Whilst I was invited to lead a professional seminar of the AFIP in Buenos Aires, everything was cancelled at the last minute, Claudio Rodriguez Arias was transferred to another department and forced to leave his post without any logical explanation.
During this terribly sad Covid-19 year, the young generation and students are getting depressed. Most of the retailers and small and middle-size enterprises may close. Insecurity of unemployment is growing. The very profitable multinational companies start layoff plans. During the lockdowns, citizens violences surge in Tripoli (Lebanon); many of the citizens interviewed by international media explained having nothing to eat because of corrupted politicians who have been around for decades. Unfortunately, this is sadly what will happen to us if ones doesnot fight the plutocrats who have lied to us for too long.
Our experiences of whistleblowers in the field of finance allow us to validate the investigations made by the NGOs and to demonstrate that the whole planet is gangrenous. The whistleblowers who disclose the excesses of the high finance have all been symbolic cases of resistance facing a steamroller, which was programmed to assassinate them.
The cry for help of the Lebanese citizens reminds me that the former South African President Nelson Mandela had declared in 2005: “Millions of people are trapped in the prison of poverty. It is time to set them free. Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome. (…) Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. You can be that great generation!” Extreme poverty would obviously not exist if there were not over-dimensioned wealth. For ten years, we have been repeating that finance has taken hostage of the citizens of the world and the economies of the countries while billionaires multiplied their wealth. Hasn’t the time come for us, as European citizens, who live on the richest continent, to think about the legacy we want to leave to the future generations? We owe it to all the ones who suffer in the world, to our children and to the future generations.
Nine years after leaving my post at UBS, I sometimes still feel guilty about working unknowingly in the heart of the industry which has caused so much poverty and misery. I had worked in the heart of the nuclear reactor without knowing it was radioactive.
Cover photo by Christine Roy on Unsplash