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25 October 2011

UNODC Estimates that Criminals may have Laundered US$ 1.6 Trillion in 2009

MARRAKECH/VIENNA, 25 October (UN Information Service) - Criminals, especially drug traffickers, may have laundered around US$ 1.6 trillion, or 2.7 per cent of global GDP, in 2009, according to a new report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). This figure is consistent with the two to five per cent range previously established by the International Monetary Fund to estimate the scale of money-laundering.

Less than one per cent of global illicit financial flows is currently being seized and frozen, says the report Estimating illicit financial flows resulting from drug trafficking and other transnational organized crime. "Tracking the flows of illicit funds generated by drug trafficking and organized crime and analyzing how they are laundered through the world's financial systems remain daunting tasks," acknowledged Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of UNODC.

Launching the report in Marrakech during the Fourth Session of the Conference of the States Parties to the United Nations Convention on Corruption, Mr. Fedotov said that the Conference served as an apt reminder that corruption could play a major role in facilitating illicit transfers into the legitimate global financial flows. Investments of 'dirty money' can distort the economy, and hamper investment and economic growth, he said. The aim of the study was to shed light on the total amounts probably laundered across the globe and to advance research on the topic. "But as with all such reports, we will continue to refine the figures to provide the truest possible estimates," he said.

The UNODC report suggests that all criminal proceeds, excluding tax evasion, would amount to some US$ 2.1 trillion or 3.6 per cent of GDP in 2009 (2.3 to 5.5 per cent). Out of this total, the proceeds of transnational organized crime - such as drug trafficking, counterfeiting, human trafficking and small arms smuggling - would amount to 1.5 per cent of global GDP, 70 per cent of which would likely have been laundered through the financial system.

The illicit drugs trade - accounting for half of all transnational organized crime proceeds and a fifth of all crime proceeds - is the most profitable sector. The study paid particular attention to the market for cocaine, probably the most lucrative illicit drug for transborder crime. Traffickers' gross profits from the cocaine trade stood at around US$84 billion in 2009. While Andean coca farmers earned about US$1 billion, the bulk of income generated from cocaine was in North America (US$35 billion), followed by West and Central Europe (US$26 billion). Close to two-thirds of that total may have been laundered in 2009. The findings suggest that most profits from the cocaine trade are laundered in North America and in Europe, whereas illicit income from other subregions is probably laundered in the Caribbean.

Once illegal money has entered the global and financial markets, it becomes much harder to trace its origins, and the laundering of ill-gotten gains may perpetuate a cycle of crime and drug trafficking. "UNODC's challenge is to work within the UN system and with Member States to help build the capacity to track and prevent money-laundering, strengthen the rule of law and prevent these funds from creating further suffering," said Mr. Fedotov.

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Link to the report:

For further information please contact:

Preeta Bannerjee
Public Information Officer: UNODC
Mobile: (+43-699) 1459-5764
Email: preeta.bannerjee[at]