The International Monetary Fund said on Thursday that bribery sucks up between $1.5 and $2 trillion dollars annually around the world, dragging down economies and making it difficult to improve social services for the poor.
In a new report on the economic impact of corruption, the IMF said that bribery, graft and other cheating common in both rich and poor countries limits economic growth and undermines sound government policies.
In a speech prepared for the global Anti-Corruption Summit in London on Thursday, IMF managing director Christine Lagarde said that more and more leaders are openly seeking help to fight the scourge.
''Both poverty and unemployment can be symptoms of chronic corruption,'' she said, according to the text of her speech.
''While the direct economic costs of corruption are well known, the indirect costs may be even more substantial and debilitating, leading to low growth and greater income inequality.''
Lagarde dismissed the idea that corruption is a stubborn cultural phenomenon in many countries. In fact, it is common across cultures, and countries with diverse backgrounds have found ways to address it, she said.
The late Singapore leader Lee Kuan Yew ''was very effective in both signalling a zero-tolerance policy towards corruption and building competent institutions at a time when corruption was pervasive in Singapore,'' she noted.
The economic impact of corruption is hard to quantify, according to the IMF report released today. But despite claims that it helps ''grease the wheels'' to make economies work, the overall impact is very negative.
The cost of bribery alone tops more than two per cent of global gross domestic product - a broad measure of economic output - and because it is tainted, that money is often sucked out of economies to offshore havens, meaning it does not contribute to growth.
Corruption perpetuates economic inefficiency, undermines public policy, and exacerbates inequality, the report says. It also scares off both domestic and foreign investors.
''Investors actually seek out countries that can give them the assurance that, once an investment is made, they will not be blackmailed into providing bribes,'' Lagarde said.