California billionaire Igor Olenicoff had already invested $200 million with UBS AG in 2001 when his Swiss bankers ushered him to an underground vault in Geneva.
Olenicoff, a real estate developer with a taste for yachts and Russian art, saw floor upon floor of safe-deposit boxes. His private banker, Bradley Birkenfeld, and a colleague showed Olenicoff his own space for valuables.
“They said, ‘Whatever you want — corporate stock, cash, gold, silver — put it in here,’” says Olenicoff, 66, at the Newport Beach, California, headquarters of Olen Properties Corp., the company he founded in 1973. “It was that aura of legitimacy and secrecy. They say, ‘We’re the world’s largest wealth manager,’ so how do you question?”
Recall, of course, that former Senator Phil Gramm is a senior executive with UBS.