Listening to Amy Goodman on the car radio yesterday, I was shocked to learn that President Barack Obama’s golf partner a couple of days earlier was Robert Wolf, president of UBS Investment Bank and chairman and CEO of UBS Group Americas. I would have expected the President to choose a more wholesome golf partner.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t vet my golfing buddies for their morals. As long as they can hit the ball well enough to keep the game moving, and provide a little camaraderie along the way, I’ll tee it up with just about anybody. For all I know, the single that the starter teamed me up with the other day was a bank robber hiding from the FBI. If so, he was a pleasant bank robber with a pretty good swing. And he kept quiet while I was trying to putt.
He might even have been a Republican for all I know. Golfers don’t discuss politics. We need to stay calm so we can keep our heads still when we hit the ball.
But this Wolf character was no casual pick-up partner. Goodman described him as “an early financial backer of Obama’s presidential campaign, (who) raised $250,000 for him back in 2006.” In return the President appointed him to the White House Economic Recovery Advisory Board.
Here’s more of Goodman’s disturbing account:
Wolf’s appointment came in the same month that UBS agreed to pay the U.S. $780 million to settle civil and criminal charges related to helping people in the U.S. avoid taxes. Not to worry. UBS, an ailing bank with a pre-existing condition, had great insurance coverage. It was actually receiving $2.5 billion in a backdoor bailout from bailed-out insurance giant AIG. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said, “It looks like we’re simply laundering this money through AIG.” UBS, this bank that shelters wealthy tax dodgers, was actually being bailed out by hardworking U.S. taxpayers.
Let me get this straight. A Swiss bank criminally abets tax evasion by thousands of super rich Americans, and buys off prosecution with our tax money. And the head of the bank goes out and plays a round of golf with our President. Now if you’ve been reading my blogs, you know I am a staunch Obama supporter, and have been since day one, but this gave me pause. I’m surprised it didn’t give me hives.
And there’s more. The guy who blew the whistle on Wolf’s bank, a top UBS executive named Bradley Birkenfeld, was sentenced last Friday to 40 months in prison for facilitating offshore tax evasion. So much for the government’s gratitude for his assistance. That should be a warning to anyone else who might be thinking of finking on the masters of the financial universe. The whistle blowers go to jail; their bosses get invited to golf with the President.
Top photo shows President Obama walking alongside Robert Wolf at Farm Neck Golf Course at Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, on August 24. Bottom photo shows Birkenfeld (left) on his way to jail.
For more on the UBS case, check out this Reuters report:
And for more on Birkenfeld’s reward for whistle blowing, here’s a report from The Telegraph:
And here’s Amy Goodman’s Huffington Post column on the topic: