In 2007, a whistleblower gave information about thousands of US citizens who were putting money in Swiss mega-bank UBS to avoid paying US taxes. The IRS [Internal Revenue Service] sues UBS to learn the identities of US citizens with secret bank accounts. UBS faces either complying and violating strict Swiss banking secrecy laws, or refusing and facing criminal charges in a US court.
The US government decides to treat this as a political matter with the Swiss government instead of just a legal problem with the bank. In March 2009, Clinton meets with Swiss officials and brings up a number of unrelated issues where the US wants help from Switzerland, such as using Swiss neutrality to help release a US citizen imprisoned in Iran. The Swiss help with these other issues, and appear to get concessions in the UBS case in return.
On July 31, 2009, Clinton announces a legal settlement: the US government dismisses the IRS lawsuit, and UBS turns over data on only 4,450 accounts instead of the 52,000 accounts worth $18 billion wanted by the IRS.
Some US politicians criticize the deal. For instance, Senator Carl Levin (D), says, “It is disappointing that the US government went along.” A senior IRS official will later complain that many US citizens escaped scrutiny due to the deal.
UBS then helps the Clintons in various ways:
- Total UBS donations to the Clinton Foundation grow from less than $60,000 through 2008 to about $600,000 by the end of 2014.
- Starting in early 2010, UBS works with the foundation to launch entrepreneurship and inner-city loan programs, and lends the programs $32 million. In 2012, the foundation will tout these programs as one of their major accomplishments.
- UBS gives the foundation $100,000 for a charity golf tournament.
- In 2011, UBS pays Bill Clinton $350,000 for discussing the economy at a UBS event.
- Also in 2011, UBS pays Bill Clinton $1.5 million to take part in eleven question and answer sessions with a UBS official, making UBS his largest corporate source of speech income.
In 2015, the Wall Street Journal will comment, “there is no evidence of any link between Mrs. Clinton’s involvement in the case and the bank’s donations to [the foundation], or its hiring of Mr. Clinton. But her involvement with UBS is a prime example of how the Clintons’ private and political activities overlap.”
Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard law professor and Democrat, will say of the Clintons, “They’ve engaged in behavior to make people wonder: What was this about? Was there something other than deciding the merits of these cases?” (The Wall Street Journal, 7/30/2015)
The Atlantic magazine will comment, “If you’re Bill Clinton and your wife has recently intervened in her capacity as a cabinet secretary to help a giant corporation avert a significant threat to its bottom-line, the very least you could do, if only to avoid the appearance of impropriety, is to avoid negotiating seven-figure paydays with that same corporation. [The fact he didn’t do that] is particularly jaw-dropping because ultra-wealthy Bill Clinton has virtually unlimited opportunities to give lucrative speeches to any number of audiences not directly implicated by decisions that his wife made as secretary of state.” (The Atlantic, 7/31/2015)