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IMF: Trillions of Undeclared Funds Offshore

March 15th, 2010

Wealth Bulletin, on the recently released IMF study: Cross-Border Investment in Small International Financial Centers (via Richard Murphy)

Gian Maria Milesi-Ferretti, an economist for the IMF in Washington, said statistical information on Luxembourg, one of the largest offshore financial centres in Europe, illustrated the extent of the problem. He said: “Luxembourg is one of the few offshore centres that disclose detailed statistics on assets and liabilities held in the financial sector, which makes it invaluable to understand cross-border money flows.”

The latest available IMF figures show portfolio assets held by foreigners in Luxembourg to be worth $1.5 trillion at the end of 2008. But looking at statistics provided by the Luxembourg Government on portfolio investment liabilities for the country – the mirror image of the asset information held by the IMF – there is a big discrepancy. The investment liabilities in Luxembourg were $2.5 trillion – $1 trillion (€726bn) more than the assets reported.

Milesi-Ferretti said: “This is a huge difference, almost 40%, and is unlikely to be entirely accounted for by the fact that some countries do not report their portfolio investments or their destination to the fund.” China, Taiwan and many of the oil-exporting countries do not participate in the IMF’s survey.

The study reports that there may be as much as $18 trillion of foreign dollars parked in small international financial centers, which does not include Switzerland.

Murphy comments:

I admit I can’t resist the temptation to say that some of us have been saying this for a long time. The Tax Justice Network published my research on this in 2005, suggesting there were £11.5 trillion of assets offshore. Time and again this has been attacked by organisations that should have known better and by academics with a right wing axe to grind. But now, like so much else I and others have argued, it is being validated. And the issue itself, once dismissed as inconsequential is now being considered seriously.

The IMF’s $18 trillion number dramatically exceeds previous studies, and even it acknowledges that it probably underestimates the amount of money floating around in tax havens.

Written by EJ Fagan

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