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The Whistleblower UBS Fired for ‘Blackmail’ Who Got a Medal From Macron

(Bloomberg) — A former auditor was fired by UBS Group AG and accused of “blackmail” after he blew the whistle on suspicious behavior by bankers crossing the Swiss border into France. Now he’s been awarded a medal by President Emmanuel Macron.

Nicolas Forissier was made a “chevalier” — or knight — of France’s National Order of Merit during a ceremony on Friday at the Senate in Paris, joining some 177,000 other members. 

Macron’s decree recognizing Forissier was published in late November last year, just two weeks after France’s top court confirmed UBS’s overall guilt but ordered the reexamination of its €1.8 billion ($2 billion) tax fraud penalty.

For UBS, Forissier has been a thorn in the side ever since he filed a whistle-blowing report in 2008. In it, the former audit manager accused its French unit of having set up a tax fraud scheme and covertly dispatched Swiss bankers in France to encourage prospective clients to move money across the border. 

French authorities started investigating the matter soon after and, in 2013, UBS got hit with a €10 million fine from France’s banking watchdog over its faulty control systems. Paris criminal investigators finalized a parallel probe four years later.

UBS’s conviction in 2019 landed it with a record €4.5 billion penalty, which the bank immediately appealed. The Zurich-based bank won a reduction of the fine on appeal and a November ruling from France’s top court suggests UBS might obtain a further cut.

During the Friday ceremony, the French senator who sponsored Forissier for the award established a clear link between the conviction of UBS and the decision the former audit manager made to blow the whistle.

“It’s a beautiful day for Nicolas, for justice and for whistleblowers,” Senator Eric Bocquet said during the ceremony on Friday. “This shows that the fight against tax evasion can and must continue, as it damages our public finances, undermines society and weakens the common good of the republic.”

After the fabled “Légion d’honneur,” whose top Grand-Croix distinction was recently given to luxury good entrepreneur Bernard Arnault, “L’ordre national du Mérite,” as it is known in French, is the next highest civilian honor in the nation. Past recipients include Nobel Prize-winning economist Jean Tirole and actor Vincent Cassel.

Spat Continues

Throughout its trials, UBS sought to discredit Forissier and another whistleblower, accusing them of “blackmail” and saying the latter had “lied.” The spat between Forissier and UBS France continues to play out in other courts. 

Following his dismissal in late 2009, the former audit manager sued and won a payout of nearly €280,000 at the Paris employment tribunal. The case is now on appeal. Separately, the French unit of UBS will in December have to answer in front of judges of criminal accusations that it harassed Forissier and the other whistleblower.

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.

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