Witness Protection for Bank Whistleblower; UBS Exec Takes 'the Fifth'

A Senate hearing Thursday had all the trappings of a Mafia investigation.

ByABC News
July 17, 2008, 1:35 PM

July 17, 2008— -- Secret informants, silent witnesses, code words: a Senate hearing on wealthy alleged tax cheats Thursday morning had all the trappings of a Mafia investigation.

One witness, fearing for his life, testified at the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations hearing via videotape, his face a mere shadow on the screen. Three other witnesses refused to testify on the grounds they could incriminate themselves.

And the yarn that unraveled – of secret codes, snooping G-men and admonitions against using home phones or writing information down – sounded as much like background research for a "Sopranos" plotline as what it was: an expose of wealthy Americans allegedly trying to keep their riches beyond the reach of Uncle Sam.

Testifying on video was Heinrich Kieber, a former employee of the LGT Bank of Liechtenstein, the source of 12,000 pages of bank documents detailing secret, multi-million-dollar accounts held by "many, many, many" U.S. citizens for the alleged purpose of dodging taxes.

Kieber, declared a fugitive by Liechtenstein, is living in an undisclosed location, reportedly as part of a witness protection program, after providing information to government officials in England, Germany, the United States and other countries on their citizens who hid billions in wealth through the bank. The German government has admitted to paying him millions for the data.

In his videotaped testimony, Kieber described stumbling across the bank's secrecy schemes while working on a document conversion project several years ago.

"Going through thousands of documents. . . I got the very clear picture" of the "tricks" employed by the bank to help clients dodge tax collectors, creditors, even "international law enforcement agencies," he said.

Because of the bank's efforts to provide their clients with secrecy and anonymity, it "does not have a clue" of the sources of wealth for "the vast majority" of its clients, Kieber asserted, noting that its ignorance undermines its participation in anti-terror, anti-corruption and anti-crime agreements.