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Illicit Trade Worth €3bn Says GT


The level of money laundering activity in Ireland is estimated to be at least €3bn according to a new report published today by business advisory firm Grant Thornton.


The report – 'Illicit Trade: an Irish and Global Challenge' ­– argues that while the 2010 Criminal Justice Act has improved the regulatory environment, money laundering activity remains a threat to Ireland's reputation as a financial centre and is benefiting criminal gangs.

Globally the IMF estimates the aggregate size of money laundering at between 2% and 5% of the gross domestic product, which in Ireland means a low end estimate of €3.1bn up to €7.8bn at the high end of the range. The costs incurred to the economy from money laundering includes the loss of government revenue from taxation on counterfeit fuel, alcohol and tobacco and the cost of enforcement of legislation through money spent on Gardai and regulatory bodies.

Threats
Report author and Grant Thornton Partner Brendan Foster said: “Our research estimates that illicit trade in fuel and tobacco alone is as much as €337m, with much of this going into criminals' pockets. Money laundering allows these illegal proceeds to penetrate the legitimate financial system. New threats such as the unregulated nature of payments with virtual currencies such as Bitcoin also pose new challenges to controlling what is a global problem.”

The report builds on a similar study conducted last year which found that illicit trade in in the retail sector was costing the Irish economy as much as €1.48bn per year. A limited government response and continued weak penalties for violations of the law have meant losses have increased 3% in this year's estimate to €1.53bn.

The €1.53bn costs comprise of €587m in lost revenue to rights holders and retailers through sale of illegal and counterfeit fuel, tobacco, pharmaceuticals and digital products such as music and video games. A further €946m is estimated to be lost to the Exchequer in lost tax revenue.

Cybercrime
The 2014 report broadens the investigation to consider money laundering activity, cybercrime and the importance of protection of intellectual property rights in controlling illicit activity.

The report argues that the defense of the intellectual property rights that underpin industries like the entertainment and pharmaceutical sectors should be at the heart of the government's reform strategy. 23% of employment in Ireland comes from industries which rely on the legal protection of patents and trademarks and 50% of GDP (compared to an EU average of 37%).

Recent government proposals to remove all branding from tobacco products could potentially send a negative signal about Ireland's commitment to intellectual property rights protection.

Piracy
Foster added: “Digital piracy of movies, production of counterfeit CDs, smuggling of illicit tobacco and alcohol are all examples of IP abuse that hurt the Irish economy. With Ireland's high dependence on IP intensive industries, a strong national framework of IP protection is vital. We recommend that a committee be established of both industry and state interests which would have direct responsibility for tackling the issue of illicit trade and IP protection.”

Research for the report also polled the views of consumers and retailers on the issue of illicit trade in the retail sector and found widespread recognition that it is a growing problem:

·      77% of consumers said that it was easy to buy illegal tobacco
·      1 in 3 consumers have knowingly acquired a pirated product
·      74% of retailers believe organised crime is involved in fuel laundering
·      72% of retailers think the government response to the threat of illicit trade has been too little.

The full report is available for download at http://www.grantthornton.ie/IllicitTrade2014

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