July 15, 2008 -- Hundreds of super-rich American tax cheats have, in effect, turned themselves in to the IRS after a bank computer technician in the tiny European country of Liechtenstein came forward with the names of US citizens who had set up secret accounts there, according to Washington lawyers investigating the scheme.
The bank clerk, Heinrich Kieber, has been branded a thief by the government of Liechtenstein for violating the country's bank secrecy laws.
He is now in hiding but scheduled to testify to the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations Thursday via a video statement from a secret location, according to Congressional investigators.
Aides for committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) are scheduled to provide reporters with a background briefing later this morning in Washington on the committee's investigation of tax haven banks in Liechtenstein and Switzerland.
Aides say the hearing will also focus on the role of the giant Swiss bank UBS and its alleged efforts to help wealthy Americans hide their money from the IRS through shell companies in Liechtenstein.
Liechtenstein's veil of secrecy was pierced five years ago when the disgruntled technician, Kieber, downloaded the names of foreign citizens connected to the secret accounts.
Kieber reportedly sold three CD's full of names and data to tax authorities to 12 countries including Germany, Great Britain, France, Italy and the United States.
Tax authorities in Italy published the full list of names.
In Germany, the disclosures led to the arrests of several prominent CEO's on charges that had evaded millions of dollars in taxes.
A former UBS private banker, Bradley Birkenfeld, has agreed to a plea deal and is reported to be cooperating with US authorities in bring charges against American citizens on tax evasion charges.
The Liechtenstein bank, LGT, is owned by the tiny country's ruling family led by Prince Hans-Adam II.
Kieber's Washington lawyer, Jack Blum, says Kieber should be considered a whistleblower and a hero, not a thief, for revealing how the super rich hid billions of dollars using the Liechtenstein bank.
The names of the US citizens are now in the hands of the IRS and Senate investigators.
Washington lawyers say a number of prominent citizens have been subpoenaed to testify but have already indicated they will refuse to testify, asserting their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
It is not yet clear whether Senator Levin will insist they appear in front of the committee anyway.