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Middle East, African Elites Hoard About $225 Billion Offshore

Middle Eastern and African leaders and ruling elites hold an estimated $225 billion of illegally obtained assets with foreign banks, according to research firm MyPrivateBanking.

That’s 15 percent of the $1.5 trillion the wealthy from those regions hold offshore, the Kreuzlingen, Switzerland-based firm said today, after surveying bankers, academics and organizations such as Transparency International.

“Over the decades these regimes have grown an entire ruling class consisting of family, friends, businesses, security forces and secret service that have transferred significant wealth out of their home countries,” said Steffen Binder, research director of MyPrivateBanking.

Switzerland on Jan. 19 froze assets of Tunisia’s ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and those of Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to cede power to the internationally recognized winner of November’s presidential election. Egypt’s rich are considering taking money out of the country after violent protests against President Hosni Mubarak, Karim al-Korey, an associate director at Arab Bank (Switzerland) Ltd. said last week.

An estimated 41 percent of the total assets of the wealthy from Africa and the Middle East are held in banks based in the European Union, including the U.K.’s Channel Islands and Luxembourg, MyPrivateBanking said. About 33 percent is held in Switzerland with 8 percent in Asia and the rest in North America and the Caribbean, the firm said.

The Middle East and Africa account for about 17 percent of the world’s offshore wealth, according to MyPrivateBanking.

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