Political Risk Latin America Blog @PolRiskLatam

Seizing control of a wayward agency

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on November 12, 2010

by The Economist – Americas View, November 11th, 2010.

Ask anyone involved in Colombia’s long battle against organised crime about the keys to the country’s success, and one of the first responses will inevitably be the state’s attack on the mobs’ finances. In 1996 the government passed a law that allowed it to confiscate any asset whose owner could not demonstrate that it was acquired legally.

At first, officials made little use of the tactic. But once Álvaro Uribe became president in 2002, he had the law streamlined, and began using its inversion of the burden of proof to strip hundreds of suspected drug lords of their presumably ill-gotten gains, with no need for a criminal conviction that would have been difficult to secure. Mr Uribe has called asset seizure one of the anti-narcotics tools “most feared” by the mafias.

So far, Colombian officials have managed not to abuse their confiscatory power to persecute political opponents, the most obvious pitfall of the policy. However, a successful asset-seizure programme also depends on a much more mundane task: safeguarding the forfeited property until it can be sold off, auctioned or given away to victims of organised crime. In 1992 Colombia established an agency called the National Narcotics Directorate (DNE), whose official responsibility was determining drug-control policy. In practice, however, it has focused on managing the 76,000 items the government has snatched from the narcos, such as jewelry, art, cars and real estate (including agricultural, residential, and commercial property). (continue reading… )



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