Global Financial Integrity

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Illicit Financial Flows

Illicit Flows in the Poorest of Places

Illicit Financial Flows Have a Devastating Impact on the Poorest Countries in the World

What do you do when “the big number,” used to estimate the global volume of illicit financial flows (IFFs), begins to lose its luster?

Over the past year or so, GFI has begun to hear—in various venues and by various people—the warning to audiences that they shouldn’t “focus on the big number.” A trillion dollars is a global number, these observers say, and can’t be used to assess the impact at the country level. Or, they contend, the trillion dollars in IFFs is from a cluster of emerging market countries and therefore is skewed to make it look as though all developing countries have huge problems when really only a few do. GFI decided to go back to the data to see if the criticisms were accurate.

As a result, this week we are publishing “Illicit Financial Flows and Development Indices: 2008–2012,” a study that looks at illicit flows from the poorest countries to determine the development impact in those places that do not appear on the top-10 list of IFF-source nations by gross volume. Rather than focus on the Chinas and Russias and Mexicos of the world, we examined IFFs in nations that appear, for example, on the Least Developed Countries list or the Highly Indebted Poor Countries list—82 countries in all were examined. What we found was simply alarming.

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FIFA: The Bribery Case with No Bribery Charge

This was a very exciting week for lawyers who are sports enthusiasts – the Department of Justice indicted fourteen FIFA officials, alleging that they are part of what one could conclude from reading the indictment is a massive, multifaceted, bribery ring. Informal allegations have been made before, and the whispers that FIFA is synonymous with bribery and corruption have been growing louder over the years. But this week the Department of Justice shouted it from the mountain top (or, perhaps more accurately, in front of a lot of the international press corps, which was probably more effective).

There are a number of interesting facets to the case that is now before us. The first is that for a case about bribery, a charge of bribery seems to be conspicuously absent. The Defendants were indicted for a “pattern of racketeering activity,” including charges of violating the Travel Act in aid of racketeering, money laundering, money laundering conspiracy, wire fraud, wire fraud conspiracy, and other charges that do not expressly include bribery. Why is that?

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Addressing Illicit Financial Flows in the FfD and SDG Processes

Shipping containers at the Port of Basel, Switzerland

The “Zero Draft” of the Financing for Development Conference Outcome Document Should be Improved to Aim to Halve Illicit Flows from Trade Misinvoicing

On Monday, the United Nations released a so-called “Zero Draft” of the Financing for Development (FfD) Conference Outcome Document. Simply stated, this draft lays out the current political consensus on a vast array of development issues including how to address the growing problem of illicit financial flows (IFFs). It is by no means the final word on IFFs—or any other issue for that matter—but it gives a good indication where things are heading.

The draft proposes three specific steps to address IFFs, including:

  • Developing “a proposal for an official definition of IFFs”,
  • Developing “a proposal to publish official estimates [of IFF] volumes and breakdown,” and
  • An international effort to “substantially reduce” the flow of IFFs.

These measures go a long way toward addressing a problem that has captured the attention of the development community over the last few years. For example, in 2013 the World Bank noted that “there is little doubt” that IFFs have a caustic effect on development, and last year the African Union noted that “it is imperative to curtail” illicit flows.

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Illicit Financial Flows a Drain on Development in Sub-Saharan Africa

A Market in Livingstone City, Zambia.

As a Percent of GDP, Sub-Saharan Africa Suffers the Largest Illicit Outflows of Any Region in the World

Global Financial Integrity’s (GFI) latest annual report on illicit financial flows–released just last month–estimates the volume of illicit financial outflows from the developing world from 2003 to 2012. It is the first report to estimate these flows for 2012, when they reached a record US$991.2 billion.

Already, this US$991.2 billion figure is being cited quite a bit; it is the main figure cited in many of the articles of we’ve seen on the report in the media. Take, for example, this story in The Guardian, this article from Reuters, or this piece in The Wall Street Journal. It’s the big, flashy, almost-trillion dollar number.

However, I’d like to draw your attention to a different figure, one that emphasizes even more clearly the implications of illicit financial flows on development: 5.5.

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Happy Holidays from Global Financial Integrity

Dear Friends,

Best wishes for a wonderful holiday season.

At Global Financial Integrity, we’ve had another tremendously successful year.  On the global stage, many countries are now planning to begin exchanging financial information automatically by the end of 2017 or 2018.  Just this week, the European Union agreed to end the incorporation of anonymous companies with the EU.  The global community is actively discussing whether a goal to reduce illicit financial flows should be included in the upcoming Sustainable Development Goals.

That said, as our flagship annual report—published this week—on illicit financial flows from developing countries shows, the developing world continues to lose US$1 trillion per year in illicit outflows, and they are growing at roughly twice the rate of global GDP. More must be done.

While GFI’s work has a tremendous impact, we have done all of this with only about 10 staff members and a very modest budget, which significantly hinders the impact that we can have.  Just imagine what we could do with a larger budget to leverage our groundbreaking global economic research and policy advisory work with governments.

Contribute Now to GFI

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Orders of Magnitude and the Human Cost of Illicit Financial Flows

By Any Measure, Illicit Financial Flows Pose a Devastating Challenge to Developing Countries and Human Lives

Thomas Pogge—Professor of Philosophy and International Affairs at Yale University, Director of the Global Justice Program, President of Academics Stand Against Poverty (ASAP), and member of the Board of Directors of Global Financial Integrity (GFI)—has estimated that 18 million people die each year of economic deprivation and causes stemming therefrom. His calculation is based in good part upon estimating the number of people dying from preventable diseases.

GFI estimates that US$1 trillion a year of illicit financial flows drains from developing countries into western accounts. Our estimate is based on balance of payments and balance of trade data filed by governments with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the same data that is used by millions of people every day in making decisions about investments, loans, interest rates, exchange rates, and more. We believe that our data is very conservative because it does not include major components of illicit outflows, which do not show up in official statistics.

18 million people dying a year is around 50,000 people a day. US$1 trillion a year is roughly US$3 billion a day.

On this day, how many of the 50,000 people will live, if the US$3 billion stays home?

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Moving Towards a Clear SDG to Halve Trade Misinvoicing by 2030

Mexico and Bangladesh Voice Support for a Clear Target on Curbing Illicit Financial Flows on the Sustainable Development Agenda

The United Nations is in the process of forming the post-2015 development agenda. These proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will eventually replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that were agreed upon for 2000-2015. As with the MDGs, the SDGs will inform which development issues take priority in the coming years.

Sustainable Development Goal 16.4, as is currently proposed by the UN’s Open Working Group, calls on the international community to:

“by 2030 reduce illicit financial and arms flows, strengthen recovery and return of stolen assets, and combat all forms of organized crime.”

Global Financial Integrity (GFI) applauds the Open Working Group for considering illicit financial flows in its proposal. Though Goal 16.4 is definitely a start in the right direction, it is not exclusively focused on illicit financial flows, nor is it measurable in the least. GFI proposes the following as an alternative:

“by 2030, reduce illicit financial flows related to trade misinvoicing by 50%.”

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With Election Over, Will Brazil Turn to Curbing Its Illicit Flows Problem?

A Recent GFI Study & Conference Focused on Brazil’s Illicit Financial Flows, which Cost the Latin American Country US$401.6 Billion from 1960-2012

A pair of articles by The Economist last week highlight the economic challenges that Brazil’s recently re-elected president, Dilma Rouseff, will face in her second term leading Latin America’s largest economy. The federal budget shortfall has grown to 4.9% of GDP. Tax increases could further undermine growth, and cuts to benefits programs for Brazilians might also decrease spending and slow the economy, in addition to weakening progress on addressing the country’s economic inequality and poverty rates.

Many Brazilians already complain about the high tax rates and poor public services. According to a Christian Science Monitor article, which cites the Brazilian Institute of Tax Planning:

“the average person works 150 days a year to pay taxes, compared with 102 days in the [United States]. Among the 30 countries with the highest tax burdens, Brazil ranks last in terms of the quality of services citizens receive in exchange for high taxes.”

Businesses and individuals in Brazil are also dealing with high inflation, slow growth, a weakening currency, and a growing current-account gap.

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