WASHINGTON, February 13 (RIA Novosti) – More than $750 billion in illicit funds have streamed in and out of Russia since 1994, fueling an “underground” economy that accounts for nearly half of the country’s gross domestic product, according to a report released Wednesday by a Washington-based advocacy group that tracks illegal financial flows throughout the world.
“Russia has a severe problem with illegal flows of money,” Raymond Baker, director of Global Financial Integrity (GFI), which produced the report, said in a statement Wednesday. “Hundreds of billions of dollars have been lost that could have been used to invest in Russian healthcare, education, and infrastructure.”
The report, titled “Russia: Illicit Financial Flows and the Role of the Underground Economy,” measured $764.3 billion in total illegal funds moving in and out of Russia between 1994 and 2011, with inflows estimated at $552.9 billion and outflows at $211.5 billion.
The study also estimated total capital flight—which includes both illegal and legal outflows—at $782.5 billion during the same time period, a figure that the report’s chief author, economist Dev Kar, described as “extremely conservative.”
This estimate does not account for financial shenanigans like invoice mispricing and “dealings conducted in bulk cash,” Kar said.
“This means that much of the proceeds of drug trafficking, human smuggling, and other criminal activities, which are often settled in cash, are not included in these estimates,” he said in a statement.
GFI, which conducted the study with a grant from the Ford Foundation, said in a statement accompanying the release of the report that the findings raise “serious questions about the economic and political stability” of Russia as it chairs the G-20 group of leading global economies.
“So long as the Russian authorities fail to shrink the underground economy, Russia will continue to hemorrhage scare capital, both illicit and licit, to the detriment of economic and political stability and undermining the nation-state,” Kar and his co-author, Sarah Freitas, write in the 68-page report.
The authors single out Cyprus as a favorite destination for illicit Russian money, citing International Monetary Fund (IMF) figures showing that the island nation shipped $128.8 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) to Russia between 2009 and 2011—more than five times the size of Cyprus’ gross domestic product (GDP).
“The recorded FDI positions merely reflect the round-tripping of prior illicit deposits from Russia into Cyprus,” Kar and Freitas write.
In a statement Wednesday, Kar called Cyprus “a laundry machine for dirty Russian money.”
The authors propose several actions the Russian government could undertake to stem the tide of illicit money, including “significantly” boosting customs enforcement, tightening scrutiny of transactions with “tax haven jurisdictions like Cyprus and Switzerland,” and requiring Russian banks to know the actual owner of accounts opened in their institutions.
“Often banks do not know who owns or controls the accounts in their institution—they might have the name of an anonymous shell company, but they don't know the person controlling that shell company,” the authors write.
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The growing outright rivalry between the United States and China gives Russia more foreign policy weight, enabling it to assume the role of a balancer. So far it has been doing so rather skillfully. Today it may participate in a joint naval exercise with China that Beijing positions as outwardly anti-American. But tomorrow it can team up with the naval forces of the Old World.