A little-noted presidential golf outing opens the door to an intrigue-filled world of financiers, murky international interests, money-laundering, tax evasion, and politics as not-so-usual.
Last August, the presidential press corps followed Barack Obama and his family to Martha’s Vineyard for their brief vacation. The coverage focused on summery fare—a visit to an ice cream parlor, the books the president had brought along. Nearly everyone mentioned his few rounds of golf, including his swing, and the enthusiasm of onlookers. What caught my eye, though, was the makeup of his foursome. The president was joined by an old friend from Chicago; a young aide; and Robert Wolf, Chairman and CEO, UBS Group Americas. In a decidedly incurious piece, a New York Times reporter made light of Wolf’s presence:
“The president has told friends that to truly relax he prefers golfing with young aides…But he departed from that pattern Monday when he invited a top campaign contributor, Robert Wolf, president of UBS Investment Bank, to join him for 18 holes. Call it donor maintenance.”
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Wolf, however, is hardly—as the Times suggested— just another donor. For one thing, he is a leading figure in an industry that almost brought down the entire financial system—and then was the recipient of astonishing government largesse. UBS, along with other banks, benefited directly from the backdoor bailout of the insurance giant AIG.
But UBS stands alone in one rather formidable respect—it was the defendant in the largest offshore tax evasion case in U.S. history, accused of helping wealthy Americans hide their income in secret offshore accounts. To settle a massive investigation, UBS forked over $780 million to the US treasury. This settlement came shortly before Wolf rounded out Obama’s golfing party. Given this rather problematical situation, why then would the President choose UBS’s Wolf of all people for this honor?
Wolf declined a request for an interview about his relationship with the President, so it was not possible to pose that question to him. This hardly matters, though, for the story goes far beyond Wolf and UBS. It involves Republicans as well as Democrats, the Bush Administration as well as Obama’s. More importantly, behind the trivialized golf outing on Martha’s Vineyard, lie the interests that increasingly set the course for every administration. And that now game the system so well that the rest of us—wherever we live in the world—are kept fighting for the scraps…
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