Malaysia ranks number three globally in terms of illicit capital outflow over a 10-year period from 2001 to 2010, according to a report released by the Washington-based Global Financial Integrity (GFI) on Monday.
A whopping US$285.24 billion (RM872.8 billion) of illicit outflow occurred in the country between 2001 and 2010, or an average of US$28.5 billion annually. An illicit outflow refers to a form of illegal capital flight and occurs when money is illegally earned, transferred or spent.
The GFI report said China and Mexico topped Malaysia during the 10-year period, with illicit outflows of US$2,740 billion and US$475.6 billion respectively
Other countries in the top 10 list were Saudi Arabia, Russia, the Philippines, Nigeria, India, Indonesia, and the United Arab Emirates.
According to the report, in 2010 Malaysia was the world’s number two in terms of illegal capital outflow with US$64.4 billion. China was in the top spot with US$420.4 billion.
The outflow of US$64.4 billion was the highest ever level for Malaysia in the 10-year period, an increase of 111.8% compared with the US$30.4 billion recorded in 2009. It was five times or 414% more than the outflow of US$12.54 billion recorded by Malaysia in 2002.
Malaysia’s capital flight has been increasing every year since 2002, except in 2009 when the outflow was US$7 billion lower than 2008.
The GFI report revealed that Asia was still the main driver of such flows, accounting for 61.2% of cumulative outflows. Five of the 10 countries with the largest illicit outflows — China, Malaysia, the Philippines, India, and Indonesia — are in Asia.
“The private sector in developing countries transfers illicit capital into the global shadow financial system through different channels, depending on the country of origin. For instance, while trade mispricing is the preferred method of sending illicit funds out of China, the balance of payments is the major channel for transferring unrecorded capital from oil exporters such as Nigeria, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia.
“Mexico and Malaysia are the only oil exporters where trade mispricing is the preferred method of transferring illicit capital abroad,” the report noted.
Interestingly, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak last year gave Parliament a lower outflow figure of RM135.3 billion from 2000 to 2009. The GFI report, however, put Malaysia’s illicit outflow at US$220.84 billion for the 2001-2009 period.
The GFI, launched in September 2006, receives funding from the Ford Foundation, the Task Force on Financial Integrity & Economic Development and various individual donors.
Centre for Policy Initiatives director Dr Lim Teck Ghee said the findings are not surprising given the prevalence of high-level corruption in Malaysia, as well as its elevated position in global corruption ranking.
“Illicit outflows are so large because of the tremendous amount of financial gains related to kickbacks, corruption and other illegal means,” he said.
He also noted that it is alarming that Malaysia belongs to the same league as China.
“Our population and national output of goods and services are many times smaller than China’s. Hence, for us to belong to the same league as China in terms of absolute size of illicit outflows is an alarming indicator of the extent of financial pillage taking place,” he added.
He pointed out that there was also little enforcement to curb such practices. “There isn’t even any interest in the government to pursue the matter. In January 2011, an offer was made by a senior staff member of GFI to assist Bank Negara Malaysia and the government to look into the outflows and to see how they can be prevented, but it appears that the offer has been completely ignored,” he said.
RHB Research Institute executive director and economist Lim Chee Sing said it is not unusual for developing countries to experience illegal capital outflow.
“While it is hard to ascertain the actual figures, I believe illegal practices of capital being siphoned off do happen. During the Asian financial crisis in 1997/98, there were reports of people trying to take capital out illegally but we don’t hear much of this today,” he told The Edge Financial Daily.
An executive with a local stockbroking firm said it is not unusual for local companies to transfer prices via inter-company transactions to evade taxes. “Such practices are common even for foreign companies with operations in Malaysia, so they can avoid paying higher taxes to the government. As to how much capital has escaped taxes, I think it is quite difficult to track,” he noted.
Nevertheless, he pointed out that the estimated outflow of US$285 billion from Malaysia over 10 years was a startling figure. “If it is true, the figure is very high even for an exporting nation such as Malaysia. Consider Singapore which has a higher volume of exports, but it is not on the list,” he said.
He opined that the lack of illegal capital outflow in Singapore could be attributed to the stronger capital governance laws there.