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Gravity Models of Trade-based Money Laundering


  • J. Ferwerda
  • M.A.C. Kattenberg
  • H.-S. Chang
  • B. Unger
  • L.F.M. Groot
  • J.A. Bikker


Several attempts have been made in the economics literature to measure money laundering. However, the adequacy of these models is difficult to assess, as money laundering takes place secretly and, hence, goes unobserved. An exception is tradebased money laundering (TBML), a special form of trade abuse that has been discovered only recently. TBML refers to criminal proceeds that are transferred around the world using fake invoices that under- or overvalue imports and exports. This article is a first attempt to test well-known prototype models proposed by Walker and Unger to predict illicit money laundering flows and to apply traditional gravity models borrowed from international trade theory. To do so, we use a dataset of Zdanowicz of TBML flows from the US to 199 countries. Our test rejects the specifications of the Walker and Unger prototype models, at least for TBML. The traditional gravity model that we present here can indeed explain TBML flows worldwide in a plausible manner. An important determinant is licit trade, the mass in which TBML is hidden. Furthermore, our results suggest that criminals use TBML in order to escape the stricter anti money laundering regulations of financial markets.

Suggested Citation

  • J. Ferwerda & M.A.C. Kattenberg & H.-S. Chang & B. Unger & L.F.M. Groot & J.A. Bikker, 2011. "Gravity Models of Trade-based Money Laundering," Working Papers 11-16, Utrecht School of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:use:tkiwps:1116

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. James E. Anderson & Eric van Wincoop, 2004. "Trade Costs," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 42(3), pages 691-751, September.
    2. James E. Anderson & Eric van Wincoop, 2003. "Gravity with Gravitas: A Solution to the Border Puzzle," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(1), pages 170-192, March.
    3. Bergstrand, Jeffrey H, 1985. "The Gravity Equation in International Trade: Some Microeconomic Foundations and Empirical Evidence," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 67(3), pages 474-481, August.
    4. Béné, Christophe & Lawton, Rebecca & Allison, Edward H., 2010. ""Trade Matters in the Fight Against Poverty": Narratives, Perceptions, and (Lack of) Evidence in the Case of Fish Trade in Africa," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 38(7), pages 933-954, July.
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    6. Redding, Stephen & Schott, Peter K., 2003. "Distance, skill deepening and development: will peripheral countries ever get rich?," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 72(2), pages 515-541, December.
    7. Jacob Bikker, 2009. "An extended gravity model with substitution applied to international trade," DNB Working Papers 215, Netherlands Central Bank, Research Department.
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    12. Bikker, Jacob A, 1987. "An International Trade Flow Model with Substitution: An Extension of the Gravity Model," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 40(3), pages 315-337.
    13. Bagella Michele & Busato Francesco & Argentiero Amedeo, 2009. "Money Laundering in a Microfounded Dynamic Model: Simulations for the U.S. and the EU-15 Economies," Review of Law & Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 5(2), pages 879-902, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. Brigitte Unger, 2013. "Introduction," Chapters,in: Research Handbook on Money Laundering, chapter 1, pages 3-16 Edward Elgar Publishing.

    More about this item


    Money laundering; international trade; Gravity model; Walker model;

    JEL classification:

    • C21 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Single Equation Models; Single Variables - - - Cross-Sectional Models; Spatial Models; Treatment Effect Models
    • F10 - International Economics - - Trade - - - General

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