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CAIRO, Jan 21 2011 (IPS) - Middle East countries have seen the largest increase of illicit outflows of funds to richer nations, depriving the developing nations of much needed development money, a new international report shows.
Developing countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region lost 1.2 trillion dollars in the nine years of the study, an average of 130 billion dollars a year, most of which goes to banks in the U.S., the UK, Switzerland and other G8 countries, economist Karly Curcio told IPS in an interview.
MENA alone accounted for 24.3 percent of the hike in all global illicit money outflows between 2000 and 2008, according to a new report by Global Financial Integrity (GFI), a Washington-based organization that advocates transparency in the international financial system.
Four oil-producing Arab countries appeared on the top 10 list of illicit money transfer exporters.
Saudi Arabia was the lead Arab country with outflows of 302 billion dollars over the nine years studied the report, ‘Illicit Financial Flows from Developing Countries 2000 – 2009’.
The United Arab Emirates came next at 276 billion dollars, followed by Kuwait at 242 billion dollars and Qatar at 138 billion dollars.
Curcio said that capital flight in the region was mostly in the form of bribes, kickbacks, tax evasion, deals in contraband goods, criminal activities and other forms of corruption.
“The dramatic increase in the world price of oil this decade likely contributed to the rapid increased volume of illicit financial flows out of the resource-rich region,” added Curcio, who is co-author of the report.
Another method for illicit money transfers is when a country’s residents acquire foreign assets illicitly by over-invoicing imports and under-invoicing exports – a practice known as trade mis-pricing that is more common outside the MENA region especially in Asia and Mexico.
Globally, developing nations were losing an average of 725 billion dollars a year to illicit money transfers. China was the world’s largest exporter of illegal funds by far at a whopping 2.18 trillion dollars followed by oil exporters Russia at 427 billion dollars and Mexico at 416 billon dollars, the GFI said in its report.
Egypt was the first exporter of illicit funds after the four top Arab oil- exporting countries in the region with estimated total outflows of 57 billion dollars between 2000 and 2008, an average of 6.3 billion dollars a year.
Israel followed at 15.2 billion dollars, an annual average at 1.6 billion dollars a year, and Lebanon at 11 billion dollars for nine years, an average outflow of 1.2 billion dollars per year.
“We regard our figures as conservative, since they do not include smuggling, some forms of trade mispricing, and asset swaps,” says Raymond W. Baker, director of Global Financial Integrity. “Skyrocketing prices for oil, other minerals, and foodstuffs, generated funds which easily escaped abroad.”
The 64-page report comes at a critical time in the Middle East when people of the region are witnessing an unprecedented popular revolution against the Western-backed corrupt rule of President Zine el Abidine Ben and his family. Tunisians say they revolted in part because they saw the slow obliteration of their wealth to corruption by the Ben Ali regime.
Tunisian media online are reporting that the Ben Ali family accumulated hundreds of millions of dollars of wealth in stolen money that is now in Western banks.
The new interim government in Tunisia has requested that foreign countries, especially Switzerland, freeze all assets of the Ben Ali clan.
While the Middle East outpaced other regions in terms of the speed of growth of illicit outflows, it took second place in terms of the size of flows after Asia.
Asia accounted for 44.4 percent of total illicit flows from the developing world while MENA represented 17.9 percent, developing Europe17.8 percent, the Western hemisphere 15.4 percent, and Africa 4.5 percent.
The report says that oil-producing countries around the world, many of them in the Middle East, are fast pushing China as the world’s largest exporter of illicit funds.
China’s share of all developing world outflows fell from 46 percent in 2000 to 27 percent in 2008 while Russia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Nigeria – all oil exporters – are now becoming more important as sources of illicit capital.
Authors of the report say they studied World Bank and IMF data of unrecorded capital leakages through the balance of payments which helps capture illicit transfers of the proceeds of bribery, theft, kickbacks, and tax evasion.
The Washington-based GFI said it was recommending greater transparency in the global financial system to curtail further bleeding of wealth from already poor nations.
“Illicit capital flight needs somewhere to go, therefore, one of the best ways of dealing with the problem of these illicit outflows is to increase transparency in the global financial system and make it much harder to hide ill-gotten wealth,” Monique Danziger, communications director told IPS.
“This includes doing away with the kind of bank secrecy for which Switzerland is famous for but also requiring financial institutions in places like the United States to be more open and accountable.”
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