SHADOWY NUMBERS

Tracking Down Money Laundering

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Money laundering is a top talking point in Germany.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The widely reported study provoked a major reaction in Germany, with calls for drastic changes to how the country deals with cash. Handelsblatt’s findings suggest that facts may have been overstated.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • The source of recent news reports was a study commissioned by the German finance ministry and led by criminal law professor Kai Bussmann of Halle-Wittenberg University.
    • A look at the methadology finds the study authors calculated the number of suspicious cases and then extrapolated an overall volume of illegal money for all of Germany.
    • Other experts suggests the real volume of money laundering in Germany may be as low as €10-15 billion, though there are no truly reliable figures.
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    Audio

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Last February, German newspapers, radio and television reported a sensational claim by the federal finance ministry — that up to €100 billion was being laundered each year in Germany.

It was a stunning number for a country that prides itself on law and order. But Germans also love to use cash more than most, with just around 20 percent of all transactions done by credit card. The money-laundering figure left many crying for action, boosting calls for everything from ending the €500 note to abolishing cash altogether.

The source of the vocal complaints was a study led by criminal law professor Kai Bussmann of Halle-Wittenberg University. The ministry had commissioned it and used the results to buttress its call for a uniform, European-wide maximum limit for cash payments, among other things.

But what if the study that sparked the furore was flawed?

Handelsblatt research has found that the professor’s team didn’t investigate the volume of actual laundered money – just suspicions of it. There’s a big difference.

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