No. 10 - Magic mirror in my hand... How trade mirror statistics can help us detect illegal financial flows by Mario Gara, Michele Giammatteo and Enrico Tosti

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June 2018

JEL Classification: E26, F14, K42
Keywords: Money laundering, illicit trade flows, mirror statistics.

Misreporting tricks of different sort applied to the transfer of goods between different countries are typically exploited by criminals worldwide for money laundering ends. The main international anti-money laundering organisations started paying attention to this phenomenon, dubbed "Trade-Based Money Laundering" (TBML), a long time ago, but the failure to develop appropriate analytical tools has reportedly dogged preventive actions.

Nonetheless, literature has widely advocated the possibility that the analysis of inconsistencies in mirrored bilateral trade data could provide some help. By building on previous contributions in the field, this work sets up a model factoring in the main structural determinants of discrepancies between mirrored data concerning Italy’s 2010 to 2013 external trade at a highly detailed (6-digit) level of goods classification for each partner country.

Point estimates of freight costs are used to net each observation of the corresponding cif/fob discrepancy. The regression estimates are then deployed in order to compute TBML risk indicators at a country/(4-digit) product level. Based on the indicators rankings of countries and product lines can be compiled, which may be used for a risk-driven search of potential illegal commercial transactions.

Published in 2019 in: The World Economy, 42 (11), pp. 3120-3147.