Money laundering : fiscal and economic implications and the potential impact of the financial intelligence centre act (FICA).
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Money laundering is the act of converting money gained from illegal activity, such as drug smuggling, into money that appears legitimate and in which the source cannot be traced to the illegal activi ty. Criminal proceeds also include that which is derived from tax evasion. Estimates of the scale of money laundering globally range between 2 and 5% of the worlds Gross Domestic Product. Another study refers to money laundering as the third largest industry globally. Money laundering has devastating consequences for countries individually and for the global economy as a whole. Potential macroeconomic consequences include inexplicable changes in money demand, greater prudential risks to banks' soundness, contamination effects on legal financial transactions and greater volatility of international capital flows and exchange rates due to unanticipated cross-border asset transfers. A number of initiatives have been established for dealing with the problem at international level. Amongst the most significant is the formation of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a body that was established by the G-7 nations in 1989 to develop a coordinated international 096572 response to money laundering. South Africa was recently accepted as a full member of the FAFT, having satisfied the FATF recommendations with the implementation of a Financial Intelligence Centre Act. The provisions of the Act came into effect on 1 June 2003. The Act imposes reporting obligations on accountable institutions like banks, insurance companies, estate agent and casinos. The Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) is established by the Act in order to identify the proceeds of unlawful activities and to combat money-laundering activi ties. It aims to do so by making information collected by it available to investigating authorities (South African Police, Scorpions, Asset Forfeiture Unit etc. including SARS). The FIC will in the course of its functions build up a database of information, which it will retain and utilise to support the above-mentioned bodies in the performance of their functions. The FICA creates a special relationship particularly with SARS. The FIC data will assist SARS to combat tax evasion and to collect taxes more effectively. The Act explicitly requires all institutions to report any transactions that may be relevant to the investigation of any evasion or attempted evasion of any tax, levy or duty. Money laundering by its very nature does not lend itself to being accurately measured but based on estimates discussed above, this can amount to a substantial loss to the fiscus. The estimated range of between 2 and 5% of the world's GDP would translate to between R24 and R60 billion being laundered annually in South Africa. If one applies the minimum marginal tax rate of 18%, one arrives at a potential loss of between R4.32 and RI0.8 billion to the fiscus. Whilst the new Financial Intelligence Centre Act cannot totally eradicate the laundering of undeclared or criminal proceeds, the many obligations now placed on accountable institutions in terms of the Act is most likely to be a further deterrent or obstacle to tax evasion.