Monday, March 16, 2009

Bailout Roulette

Connoisseurs of irony may relish this round trip of millions of taxpayer dollars--from the Federal Reserve to AIG to UBS and back to the US Treasury.

Under pressure from Congress and the public, AIG yesterday released names of financial institutions that benefited from the Federal Reserve’s decision last fall to bail out the giant insurer. Among them was the Swiss Bank UBS, which got $5 billion.

Last month, UBS had to pay $780 million to settle federal charges of helping customers defraud the IRS with offshore accounts. As part of the deal, UBS agreed to cooperate with a summons by the Justice Department to turn over names of account holders under the threat that the bank's executives could be indicted if UBS failed to do so.

So here we have bailout money spinning from the US government to a too-big-to-fail financial giant that blew billions to a crooked Swiss bank that help rich Americans cheat on their taxes and now has to give some of it back in fines for doing so.

Amid all this wheeling and dealing among incompetents and thieves, there is a little extra touch that one of the UBS executives who could be hauled into court is John McCain's campaign economic adviser, former Sen. Phil Gramm, a vice chairman of UBS who recently told Wall Street Journal readers that it wasn't the deregulation he sponsored that started the mortgage meltdown.

The money just keeps going round and round and, as croupiers like to say, where it stops nobody knows.

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