When you talk about money laundering, and when you work with large international institutions, you get used to large numbers. But just occasionally something brings me up short. Last week there was a report published by Global Financial Integrity called “Illicit Financial Flows from Developing Countries over the Decade Ending 2009” – I know, trips off the tongue. Just as promised, this study assesses the loss to developing economies of money scarpering through corruption, tax evasion (grrrrrrr – see my last post – down girl, down), trade mis-pricing and general crime. The biggest losers are China, Mexico and Russia – what, riddled with criminality? Surely not.
But I digress. What struck me about this report is the numbers. Over that decade, the loss to the developing world through illicit financial flows was US$8.44 trillion – that’s $8,440,000,000,000. (In case you’re wondering whether it’s actually $8,440,000,000,000,000,000 – I know where you’re coming from. You’re coming from a long-scale country – probably mainland Europe – as defined here. For those of us from the US and the UK, we’re short-scale, and we lose the extra noughts. Shame, as it would have made the number even more boggling.) But even on the short-scale, it’s large scale. And if you’re reading this in Vietnam (which has a low-valued currency unit and uses the long scale for numbers), the report’s top-line figure is 175,826,000,000,000,000,000,000 dong. Now that’s a whole lotta dong.