Global Financial Integrity


Transnational Crime and Terrorist Financing

Good as Gold? South Africa’s Problem with Illegal Gold Mining Is Severe and Growing

400 Oz Gold Bars

Whether South Africa’s Illegal Gold Mining Problem Is Measured in Revenue, Security Risks, or Human Lives—in the End, Everyone Loses

South Africa is the world’s fifth largest producer of gold, with the gold mining sector representing approximately two percent of South Africa’s GDP. Yet the country’s mineral wealth has proved to be a growing source of illegal activity and conflict.

There are approximately 14,000 illegal gold miners in South Africa, many of whom are illegal immigrants from Lesotho, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe. Illegal gold miners are known locally as “zama zamas,” which is variously translated as “We are trying” or “He who seizes the opportunity” or “Take a chance.” They operate in the estimated 4,000 to 6,000 abandoned mines in the Witwatersrand basin, but will also bribe security guards, policemen, or mine employees to gain access to active mines and/or to steal equipment. Credible estimates of the value of the illegal gold mining industry vary widely, ranging from US$500 million to US$2 billion annually.

Not included in these figures is the tax fraud involved in these activities. According to Naomi Fowler, criminal syndicates exploit the fact that value added tax (VAT) is not charged on mined gold whereas it is on processed gold. These syndicates then use techniques like trade misinvoicing to fraudulently certify illegally mined gold as legitimate second-hand scrap gold, which enables them to claim back VAT that they never paid.

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Checking up on the Banks: Yet More of the Same

BNP Paribas

Until Global Financial Crime Punishments include Individual Prosecutions, Rogue Banks Will Continue to Do as They Please, Writes GFI’s Joshua Simmons

After the recent spate of massive money-laundering, sanctions-busting, and tax-evasion scandals involving large international banks, sometimes it seems more difficult to name a single bank that has not been exposed for wrongdoing than list all those that have. One might think that, having worked their way through so many financial institutions, investigators and prosecutors would be at a loss for what to do next. The banks, though, seem more than willing to provide more work, with many either failing to meet their ends of their settlement agreements, continuing to move money for criminals and tax-evaders, or both.

Standard Chartered, which settled charges in mid-2012 related to its widespread activities violating U.S. sanctions on Iran, Burma, Libya, and Sudan, paid an additional fine this summer for failing to uphold its obligations under the settlement. The bank may now be in line for even more punishment, after new information seems to indicate additional transactions with Iranian entities that weren’t disclosed or admitted in the original settlement. It’s not presently clear whether Standard Chartered retained a relationship with Iranian customers after its settlement in 2012, but it certainly continued to take their money after the initial investigation began.

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Why Wildlife Trafficking and Anonymous Companies Are Mutually Inclusive

Elephant ivory is a key product in wildlife trafficking

Any Effective Effort to Save Rhinos, Tigers, and Pandas from Extinction Must Tackle the Anonymous Companies that Propel the Illegal Wildlife Trade

Wildlife trafficking is more than illegally killing exotic animals; it is part of a complex criminal network that makes use of anonymous companies to illegally transfer both goods and money.

The illegal wildlife trade consists of the poaching, sale, and trade of exotic wildlife. Animals are used for food, medicine, commercial products, and even as pets. The illegal trade hosts a bevy of clientele in both developing and developed countries.

We probably all know that wildlife trafficking can be grisly and disturbing. Rhino horns are hacked off, turtles are stuffed into suitcases, and bear gall bladders are milked from living animals. The impact on biodiversity is astounding. According to our 2011 report, Transnational Crime in the Developing World, only 500,000 elephants exist today compared to a population of 1.2 million in the 1970s. The world’s tiger population has plummeted to just 3,200—down 95 percent since 1900, and an entire species of Rhino went extinct in 2009.

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A Few More Get Fired from BNP Paribas


A couple weeks ago, we wrote a blog post hoping that discipline would go further up the BNP food chain. Unfortunately, the U.S.-BNP Paribas settlement still ineffectively punishes the French bank.

France’s BNP Paribas has agreed to pay a historically large fine of $9 billion for violating sanctions on Sudan, Iran, and Cuba. At face value, this seems to be a big deal. After all, no bank has ever been fined so much for similar crimes.

Yet yesterday, shares in BNP Paribas rose 4 percent, even after the bank pled guilty to a criminal charge. Moreover, no single person within the bank has been charged specifically with any crimes, allowing those who abused executive power to slip away relatively unnoticed. BNP did fire a few employees. Some left on their own. Others faced demotions and pay cuts, small atonements for the billions of dollars that the bank illegally transferred.

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Stopping Boko Haram by Curtailing Illicit Finance


Boko Haram developed from social unrest, poverty, and a strong disillusionment with the corruption of the Nigerian government. Today, the same factors make Boko Haram lethal.

Nigeria’s rampant corruption has left the nation unequipped to deal with security concerns, especially along porous borders through which Boko Haram receives immense support. A look at one of their videos reveals an immense amount of weaponry that is not only costly, but very difficult to obtain.

Boko Haram is capitalizing on the destitute and weak areas in the north of Nigeria to extract money from civilians, as well as financial opacity to receive funding from international criminal networks, and channel it towards arms acquisition from abroad: one of many examples of the inextricable link between financial concerns and national security.

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Event Recap: Global Shell Games, Experiments in Transnational Relations, Crime, and Terrorism

GlobalShellGamesCoverOn Friday, Global Financial Integrity hosted professors Michael Findley and Daniel Nielson to talk about their new book, Global Shell Games, Experiments in Transnational Relations, Crime, and Terrorism.

The book follows their ground-breaking paper, Global Shell Games: Testing Money Launderers’ and Terrorist Financiers’ Access to Shell Companies, which was published in 2012. The authors approached nearly 4,000 services in over 180 countries in a random assignment experience designed to measure how difficult it was to convince a corporate service provider or law firm to create a shell company without proper identification.

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From Mexico to Kosovo: The Lands Ungoverned

In August 2010, the bodies of 72 immigrants were discovered in Tamaulipas, a state in northeastern Mexico. While nobody knows the sequence of events that led to this massacre, it is well known that Tamaulipas is at the center of a turf war between two powerful drug cartels, the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel. Control of territory and trafficking routes is critical as it enables the cartels to expand their criminal operations to include other moneymaking endeavors like fuel bunkering, prostitution, kidnapping, and even software piracy.

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Human Organ Trafficking: Ugly & Immoral? Beginning A Public Discussion

When you first hear about it, the trafficking of human organs sounds like a gruesome black-market practice, carried out by the shadowy characters of the global criminal underworld. And you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. Just Google “organ trafficking” and you’ll see hundreds of pictures of people holding up their shirts to reveal long scars from where their kidneys have been removed. None of the people photographed look like your college roommate or the captain of the tennis team. None of them are reclined in a plush Manhattan parlor or smiling as they climb into the back of a town car. They’re usually sitting on the dirty city streets of developing countries or lying on hospital cots looking undernourished and desperate. Add to this image the unconfirmed reports of people being kidnapped for the express purpose of organ removal and the whole business just seems disgusting and hellish.

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