Crime generates an estimated $2.1 trillion in global annual proceeds - or 3.6pc of the world's gross domestic product - and the problem may be growing, a senior United Nations official has said.
"It makes the criminal business one of the largest economies in the world, one of the top 20 economies," said Yury Fedotov, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), describing it as a threat to security and economic development.
The figure was calculated recently for the first time by the UNODC and World Bank, based on data for 2009, and no comparisons are yet available, Mr Fedotov told a news conference.
Speaking on the opening day of a week-long meeting of the international Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ), he suggested the situation may be worsening "but to corroborate this feeling I need more data".
He said up to $40bn is lost through corruption in developing countries annually and illicit income from human trafficking amounts to $32bn every year.