GFI Welcomes New U.S.-Africa Partnership to Combat Illicit Finance
August 7th, 2014
August 7th, 2014
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 6, 2014
WASHINGTON, DC – Global Financial Integrity (GFI) welcomed the announcement from the White House and African leaders today regarding the establishment of a bilateral U.S.-Africa Partnership to Combat Illicit Finance, but the Washington-DC based research and advocacy organization cautioned that any effective partnership must be sure to address deficiencies in both the U.S. and in Africa that facilitate the hemorrhage of illicit capital from Africa.
“We welcome the move by President Obama and certain African leaders to form this partnership on curbing illicit financial flows from African economies,” said GFI President Raymond Baker, who also serves on the UN High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa. “Illicit financial flows are by far the most damaging economic problem facing Africa. By announcing the creation of the U.S.-Africa Partnership to Combat Illicit Finance, President Obama and African leaders have taken the first step towards tackling the most pernicious global development challenge of our time.”
GFI research estimates that illicit financial outflows cost African (both North and Sub-Saharan African) economiesUS$55.6 billion per year from 2002-2011 (the most recent decade for which comprehensive data is available), fueling crime, corruption, and tax evasion. Indeed, GFI’s latest global analysis found that these illicit outflows sapped 5.7 percent of GDP from Sub-Saharan Africa over the last decade, more than any other region in the developing world. Perhaps most alarmingly, outflows from Sub-Saharan Africa were found to be growing at an average inflation-adjusted rate of more than 20 percent per year, underscoring the urgency with which policymakers should address illicit financial flows.
The problem with illicit outflows from Africa is so severe that a May 2013 joint report from GFI and the African Development Bank found that, after adjusting all recorded flows of money to and from the continent (e.g. debt, investment, exports, imports, foreign aid, remittances, etc.) for illicit financial outflows, between 1980 and 2009, Africa was a net creditor to the rest of the world by up to US$1.4 trillion.
According to GFI’s research, most of the illicit outflows from Africa—US$35.4 billion of the US$55.6 billion leaving the continent each year—occur through the fraudulent over- and under-invoicing of trade transactions, a trade-based money laundering technique known as “trade misinvoicing.” As GFI noted in a May 2014 study, trade misinvoicing is undermining billions of dollars of investment and domestic resource mobilization in at least a number of African countries. The organization emphasized the importance of ensuring that the new U.S.-Africa partnership prioritizes the curtailment of trade misinvoicing.
“The misinvoicing of ordinary trade transactions is the most widely used method for transferring dirty money across international borders, and it accounts for the vast majority of illicit financial flows from Africa,” said Heather Lowe, GFI’s legal counsel and director of government affairs. “While it is easy to place the blame for this on corrupt officials or transnational crime networks, the truth of the matter is that the bulk of these fraudulent trade transactions are conducted by normal companies, many of them major U.S. and European companies.”
Ms. Lowe continued: “Just yesterday, President Obama announced the Doing Business in Africa Campaign, a U.S. government initiative focused on boosting trade between U.S. and African companies, without a signal mention of the elephant in the room: trade misinvoicing. Increasing trade is important to boosting economic growth across Africa, but only if the trade is done honestly and at fair market values. The single most important step that wealthy nations like the U.S. can take to help African economies curtail illicit flows is to trade legitimately and honestly with Africa. While this topic was not addressed at the U.S.-Africa Business Forum yesterday, it must be on the table as the U.S.-Africa Partnership to Combat Illicit Finance commences its work.”
GFI further emphasized the need to address the role of the U.S. financial system as a major facilitator of such outflows.
“For every country losing money illicitly, there is another country absorbing it. Illicit financial outflows are facilitated by financial opacity in tax havens and in major economies like the United States,” said GFI Policy Counsel Joshua Simmons. “Indeed, the United States is the second easiest country in the world—after Kenya—for a criminal, kleptocrat, or terrorist to incorporate an anonymous company to launder their ill-gotten-gains with impunity.
“While governance remains an issue for many African countries, structural deficiencies in the U.S. financial system are just as responsible for driving the outflow of illicit capital. This initiative cannot place the onus entirely on the shoulders of African governments. The burden for curtailing these illicit flows must be shared equally by policymakers in the U.S. and in Africa for this partnership to be effective,” added Mr. Simmons.
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