On 15 May, BNE Intellinews reported that the real estate and construction sectors are being used to launder illicit money from the drugs trade and migrant trafficking in the Western Balkans, leading to a hike in property prices, according to a report by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime. Laundering money through construction and real estate businesses is said to be popular because it remains relatively easy and can absorb large amounts of capital. The report homes in on some of the money-laundering hotspots in the region that have seen strong increases in property prices in recent years.
On 5 May, the Brookings Institution published this Global Working Paper #156 which uses account data leaked from an Isle of Man bank to investigate the characteristics of individuals and firms that store their money in tax havens. The author says that he has established 3 things
most customers are from rich countries and are likely to be from the upper end of the income and wealth distributions of those countries;
a non-negligible amount of offshore wealth is connected to a small number of political elites (so called politically-exposed persons). On average, these accounts have substantially higher balances and are more likely to receive payments from other tax havens, which is consistent with politically-exposed persons having access to more resources than the average offshore client while also desiring to obscure that ownership; and
a substantial proportion of bank deposits are obscured from publicly-available statistics published by the Bank of International Settlements which are commonly used to measure offshore wealth.
The Paper says that when the author correctly assigns deposits to their ultimate beneficial owner, offshore bank deposits owned by residents of tax havens drops by up to 32% and deposits held by residents of non-havens doubles. The author therefore concludes with recommendations on how reporting requirements need to change to improve the ability of regulators and the research community to detect and counter illicit finance.
On 14 May, Insight Crime released a series of articles about environmental crime in Latin America. This investigative series was carried out in conjunction withAmerican University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies. These include articles on –
Donkey skin trafficking off Colombia’s northern coast;
The illegal sea cucumber trade in Honduras;
Can crocodile and turtle farms reduce Mexico’s eco-trafficking?
Peru’s turtle traffickers operate under a veneer of legaility
An article from Herbert Smith Freehills says that, over the last decade, the law on business and human rights has shifted considerably. Instruments calling on businesses to respect human rights have traditionally been understood as non-binding “soft” law, but are now being given teeth, resulting in businesses increasingly being held to account for actions which have adverse impacts on human rights. This (r)evolution of the law has gained momentum in recent years – in tribunal and court decisions, through grievance mechanisms and other non-traditional forums, in new investment agreements and in domestic legislation – and the trend looks likely to continue.
Businesses and their legal advisors must therefore be prepared to squarely address the growing universal tools and procedures for respecting human rights. This includes playing their part in ensuring that the victims of human rights abuses have access to a fair and fast remedy. The article explains the background and says that there has been a noticeable shift in the compass of the law on business and human rights. What has traditionally been seen as voluntary soft law is slowly becoming mandatory hard law. It says that ensuring respect for human rights has become a business imperative, and businesses and their legal advisors will need to be prepared to address this head-on.
On 14 May, Greek Reporter reported that authorities had seized 338 million smuggled cigarettes at the port of Piraeus, the cigarettes being worth €72 million in duties and taxes. A total of 35 shipping containers labelled as transporting “food items” were discovered to be filled with cigarettes, having originated from Dubai. The cigarettes were being transported from Dubai to Syria, with the eventual goal of being distributed throughout a number of Arab countries. It is said that Greece has the largest proportion of illegal cigarettes in the EU, with smuggled cigarettes costing Greece €690 million in 2018, and around 1.5 billion counterfeit cigarettes have been estimated to be in Greece.