Eurasian countries topped the ranking of illicit financial flows from developing countries compiled by the Washington-based Global Financial Integrity. According to the ranking, illicit capital flight from the developing world averaged $784bn a year between 2004 and 2013 to total $7.8tn, with Russia losing $1.05tn and Kazakhstan $167bn in the period.
The non-profit organisation defines “illicit financial flows” as money involved in the drugs trade, tax evasion and money laundering that flows via shell companies, human trafficking and terrorism funding. The lack of trust in political stability and the financial systems of Kazakhstan and other former Soviet countries encourages capital flight. Government seizures of assets owned by people who fall out of favour with the authoritarian regimes also encourage the moneyed to stash their cash in Western countries where former Soviet governments cannot easily get their hands on it.
According to the ranking, Kazakhstan lost $167bn in the decade, which unfavourably compares to the country’s GDP of $134bn expected in 2015. Russia at number two in the ranking lost $105bn a year on average, or the equivalent of 50% of the country’s GDP in 2013.
Kazakhstan launched a campaign to legalise shadow capital and property (including abroad) on September 1, 2014. In November, the campaign was extended for another year until December 31, 2016, because of the sluggish pace of the campaign. According to data from the Finance Ministry, as of September 11 the authorities had legalised Kazakhstan-located property worth KZT258.4bn (€750mn) and only KZT674mn of foreign assets. At the same time, the volume of legalised capital reached KZT78.8bn (€230mn). The results of the campaign show that despite the government’s assurances, Kazakh citizens still prefer to keep their riches outside the country.
Another oil-exporting country in the region, Azerbaijan, saw an annual outflow of capital that averaged $9.5bn in the decade between 2004 and 2013. Azerbaijan was ranked 17th in the index. The cumulative flow of $95bn in the decade was equivalent to 129% of its 2013 GDP.
Capital flight from Azerbaijan’s poorer oil-importing neighbour Georgia averaged $1.5bn a year, putting it 62nd place in the ranking. Cumulatively, capital flight from this Caucasus country was equivalent to the country’s GDP of $15bn in 2014.
The Caucasus region’s poorest country Armenia came 70th with an average of $983mn a year. Again, cumulatively capital flight in 2004-2013 is comparable to the country’s GDP.
In Central Asia’s other countries, Mongolia ranked 112nd with $148mn on average a year, Kyrgyzstan 121st with $101mn a year and Tajikistan 122nd with $93mn. The region’s most isolated country, Turkmenistan, came 133rd with $36mn on average a year in 2004-2013. The ranking provides no information for the region’s another isolated country, Uzbekistan.
Capital flight from Turkey, in 12th place just behind Kazakhstan, totalled $154bn in 2004-2013 or 19% of its GDP in 2013.
Kazakhstan and Russia’s peer in the Eurasian Economic Union, Belarus, lost $88bn in the decade, or the equivalent of 121% of the country’s GDP in 2013.