Michel Christopher Meili
April 21, 1968
|Alma mater||Chapman University|
|Employer||Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS), 1997|
|Known for||Violating Swiss banking secrecy laws by alerting third parties that UBS were destroying Holocaust-era documentation.|
Michel Christopher "Christoph" Meili (born 21 April 1968) is a Swiss-American whistleblower and former security professional. In 1997, Meili illegally disclosed to third parties that Swiss bank Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS) was destroying documentation of Holocaust-era assets. After a federal arrest warrant, a set of fines, and death threats were issued to him, Meili fled Switzerland to the United States by right of asylum in late 1997, returning to his home country in 2009.
His disclosure prompted a US$1.25 billion settlement between multiple Swiss banks and Jewish victims in August 1998. Meili was entitled to $750,000 of the settlement. His returned to Switzerland having spent all his settlement money and to mixed reception by Swiss papers.
Union Bank of Switzerland
In early 1997, Meili had been working as a night guard at the Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS) in Zürich, Switzerland. He discovered that officials at UBS were destroying documents about orphaned assets, believed to be credit balances of deceased Jewish clients whose heirs' whereabouts were unknown, as well as books from the German Reichsbank. They listed stock accounts for companies in business during The Holocaust, including BASF, Degussa, and Degesch. They listed real-estate records for Berlin property that had been seized by the Nazis, placed in Swiss accounts, and then claimed to be owned by UBS. Destruction of such documents is against Swiss laws. The documents Meili saved reportedly predate the Nazi period, dating from 1897 to 1927. On 8 January 1997, he took some bank files home. After a telephone conversation, he handed them over to a local Jewish organization, which brought the documents to the police, and eventually to the press, which published the document destruction on 14 January 1997. The Zürich authorities opened a judicial investigation against Meili  for suspected violations of the Swiss laws on banking secrecy, which is a prosecutable offense ex officio in Switzerland.
After Meili and his family reported receiving death threats, they fled to the United States and were granted political asylum via private bill. According to news reports, Meili and his family are believed to be the only Swiss nationals ever to receive political asylum in the United States. On 13 January 1998, lawyer Ed Fagan filed suit against UBS on behalf of the Jewish victims, in the amount of US$2,560,000,000. On 13 August 1998, a settlement was reached between the Swiss banks and the Jewish plaintiffs totaling US$1.25 billion. Fagan was disbarred in New York and New Jersey for failing to pay court fines and fees, and for stealing client money and escrow trust funds from Holocaust survivors. Later in 1998 the investigations of the justice of Zürich against Meili for allegedly breaking the laws on bank secrecy were cancelled, but Meili did not return to his homeland until 2003. His marriage ended in divorce in February 2002. In September 2003 he visited his family in Switzerland. In Die Weltwoche, a Swiss newspaper, Meili criticized Fagan for having purportedly "instrumentalized" him and letting him down. He claimed to have never received the US $1 million that he was due according to their agreement after settling with the Swiss banks in 1998. However, according to a report by the Swiss magazine Facts (17 March 2005), Meili did receive US$750,000.
Meili studied communication sciences at Chapman University after his arrival in California. After earning his college degree in May 2004, he found employment in the security sector. On 14 May 2005 he became a naturalized United States citizen. In an interview with the Swiss newspaper Sonntagsblick on 21 October 2006, however, Meili re-iterated his criticism of Fagan and the Jewish organizations who had once championed him, stating again they had let him down. Meili, who then lived in Southern California, stated in an interview that he was working for a minimum wage. In 2009, divorced from his wife, Meili then traveled back to Switzerland to restart his life for the last time.
Effect of whistleblowing
In his book Imperfect Justice, activist Stuart Eizenstat claimed the "Meili Affair" was important in the decision of Swiss banks to participate in the process of reparations for victims of Nazi looting during World War II. He wrote that the affair "did more than anything to turn the Swiss banks into international pariahs by linking their dubious behavior during and after the War to the discovery of a seemingly unapologetic attempt to cover it up now by destroying documents." Eizenstat indicates that the affair influenced the Swiss Bankers Association (SBA) decision to create a Humanitarian Fund for the Victims of the Holocaust, and that the Fund was suggested to the SBA by Rainer Gut, chairman of Credit Suisse. as well as one of a series of events influencing the London Conference on Nazi Gold (1997).
- 1997 - Jan Zwartendijk Memorial Award for Humanitarian Values and Ethics from the Boys Town Jerusalem Foundation of America.
- 1998 - Grand Prize, Honest Abe Awards
- 1998 - Humanitarian Award, The 1939 Club (with Giusseppina Meili)
- 1999 - Seton Hall University's Humanitarian of the Year Award
- 1999 - Scholarship Fund, The 1939 Club
- 1999 - Humanitarian of the Year Award, Orange County, California.
- Eizenstat, Stuart (2003). Imperfect Justice. New York: PublicAffairs. ISBN 1-58648-110-X., p. 94
- Eizenstat, pp. 94-95
- Eizenstat. p. 95
- Parliamentary Initiative 96.434: Bundesbeschluss betreffend die historische und rechtliche Untersuchung des Schicksals der infolge der nationalsozialistischen Herrschaft in die Schweiz gelangten Vermögenswerte (in German) Archived 2008-02-26 at the Wayback Machine. Entry in force since 14 December 1996. This edict was the legal basis and foundation of the Bergier commission, constituted on 19 December 1996. Articles 4, 5, and 7 made the destruction or withholding of documents relating to orphaned assets illegal.
- Chronology: Switzerland in World War II – Detailed Overview of the years 1994-1996.
- Kantonsparlament Zürich: Protokoll der Sitzung von Montag, 20 April 1998 (DOC-Datei; 416 kB) (Word-Dokument).
- Diermeier, P.: Meili - Mission zwischen Moral und Milliarden (in German) Archived 2014-10-27 at the Wayback Machine. Orell Füssli Verlag, Zürich: 2003; ISBN 3-280-06009-5.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on March 20, 2009. Retrieved 2007-03-28.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
- Bundesgesetz über die Banken und Sparkassen (Bankengesetz, BankG), Swiss Law:, Article 47 (in German). Accessed 3 November 2006.
- Schwarb, T.M. "Ich verpfeife meine Firma" – Einführung in das Phänomen Whistle-Blowing (in German) Archived 2007-03-25 at the Wayback Machine, Fachhochschule Solothurn, July 1998; accessed 3 November 2006.
- Bank guard enters ranks of `righteous gentiles'. National Catholic Reporter, 16 April 1999.
- U.S. Congress: Bill S. 768: A bill for the relief of Michel Christopher Meili, Giuseppina Meili, Mirjam Naomi Meili, and Davide Meili, private bill sponsored by New York Senator Alphonse D'Amato (R-NY), signed into Private Law 105-1 by President Bill Clinton on 29 July 1997; accessed 30 October 2006.
- PRNewswire: L.A. Jewish Community Honors Christoph Meili At May 8th Dinner at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. 1 May 2000. Accessed 30 October 2006.
- New York Times coverage
- Walder, Noeleen G. (12 December 2008)"Lawyer Disbarred for Failing to Pay Sanctions, Fees in Holocaust Case", New York Law Journal; retrieved 15 October 2009.
- Fuchs, Mary (24 June 2009). "Lawyer Edward Fagan is disbarred in N.J. for misusing Holocaust victims' funds", New Jersey Real-Time News; retrieved 14 October 2009.
- Ain, S.: Amid Personal Hardship, Rescuer of Swiss Bank Documents to Receive Payment Archived 2006-11-03 at the Wayback Machine, World Jewry'', 28 February 2002; United Jewish Communities; accessed 30 October 2006.
- Meili, Ch. (interview recorded by P. Diermeier) Christoph Meili interview (in German) Archived 2007-09-29 at the Wayback Machine, Die Weltwoche 38/03 (2003); accessed 30 October 2006.
- Facts, Der Bumerang Archived 2007-09-29 at the Wayback Machine, Facts 05/11, p. 10; 17 March 2005.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-04-03. Retrieved 2006-10-30.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
- Basler Zeitung: Wachmann Meili wurde US-Bürger (in German) Archived 2014-10-27 at the Wayback Machine, 14 May 2005; accessed 30 October 2006.
- Basler Zeitung: "Banken-Coup: Christoph Meili möchte die Uhr zurückdrehen" (in German) Archived 2007-09-30 at the Wayback Machine; accessed 30 October 2006.
- "Meili kehrt in die Schweiz zurück". Berner Zeitung (in German). 29 March 2009. Retrieved 29 March 2009.
- "Security guard Christoph Meili returns to Switzerland - as hero or villain?". Swissinfo.ch. 9 April 2009. Retrieved 15 August 2012.
- Eizenstat, Imperfect Justice, p 94
- Eizenstat. Imperfect Justice, p. 98.
- Eizenstat. Imperfect Justice, pp. 112-115
- "Guard who turned over Swiss banking files seeks protection in U.S. Senate visit". CNN.
- Cohen, Aryeh (17 September 1997). "Swiss bank guard honored". Jerusalem Post. p. 5.
Meili was given an award for humanitarian values and ethics at Boys Town Jerusalem, a religious boarding school. The prize was founded in memory of Jan Zwartendijk, an honorary Dutch diplomat who helped Jews escape from Lithuania by issuing bogus visas to Curacao.
- "About Us". 1939club.com. 7 June 1998. Retrieved 15 August 2012.
- Tugend, Tom (7 February 2002). "A Hero's Struggles". Jewish Journal. Retrieved 15 August 2012.