REMARKS OF ERIC H. HOLDER, JR
THE DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL
NIGERIAN ORGANIZED CRIME
The Eighth International Nigerian Crime Conference
United States Secret Service
November 9, 1999
Good morning. I am pleased to be with you today at this 8th International Conference on Nigerian Crime hosted by the United States Secret Service. I want to thank United States Attorney for the District of Columbia Wilma Lewis for her introduction and to thank Director of the United States Secret Service Brian Stafford, and Special Agent in Charge Pete Dowling of the Washington Field Office for giving me the opportunity to address you this morning, and for the work they have done in hosting this conference. Over the years, the leadership of the Department of the Treasury and in particular that of the United States Secret Service have been invaluable in understanding and combating Nigerian and West African organized crime in all of its forms and manifestations. These annual Secret Service conferences are an extremely important tool in helping law enforcement increase our understanding of the political, economic and cultural situation in Nigeria, and the status of efforts within Nigeria, within the United States and around the world to combat organized crime.
As we discuss the topic of Nigerian Organized Crime, I want to emphasize from the outset that our focus is not on the millions of law abiding Nigerians, at home and abroad, whose rich tradition and culture we admire and whose contributions to our society we value; rather our focus is on Nigerian criminal elements that now dominate crime emanating from West Africa.
This year's conference, which brings together experts on Nigeria and on Nigerian organized crime, is particularly well timed. Gathered here this week are officials from U.S. federal, state and local law enforcement, as well as European, Canadian, Nigerian and other foreign law enforcement agencies, prosecutors from around the United States and around the world, and representatives of the banking industry and other private commercial institutions. Just two weeks ago, Nigerian President Obasanjo and key members of his newly elected government were in Washington for wide ranging talks with President Clinton and U.S. officials. Law enforcement issues were a critical part of those discussions. Attorney General Reno met with President Obasanjo, National Security Advisor Mohammed and others in frank and open discussions regarding ways our two nations can work together to address the growing problem of organized crime. The new government in Nigeria is keenly aware that the extensive involvement by Nigerians in the international drug trade and financial scams carried out around the world create not only misery and enormous financial losses, but also feed widespread, but unjustified perceptions about Nigerians. Only by sharing our combined expertise and resources will we be able to identify and effectively address Nigerian organized crime that plagues us all.
THE INTERNATIONALIZATION OF CRIME
As I look around this conference room today, I know that each of you are well aware of the dramatic increase in the scale and extent of international criminal activity. Criminal enterprises can be found operating in almost every country, and have truly become a worldwide threat. These enterprises engage in a wide range of illegal activities including drug trafficking, terrorism, alien and contraband smuggling, all manner of fraud, money laundering, economic espionage, counterfeiting and a host of other crimes. International criminals in today's world ignore jurisdictional and geographic borders except when seeking safe haven from prosecution behind them. These criminals are highly mobile, and continually move sums of money through our national and international financial systems in aggregate amounts so large they dwarf the economies of many nations. Increasingly, international criminals band together in multi-crime businesses, some loosely organized, others highly structured, capitalizing on the growth in world-wide communication and transportation to expand their criminal operations and to form potent alliances. Our response to the corrosive activities of these international criminals must no longer be confined to enforcement efforts which are limited by jurisdictional or geographic boundaries. Nor can our efforts continue to focus on only one type of criminal activity at a time. To be truly effective, law enforcement must constantly seek new ways to cooperate, share information and resources and to coordinate our efforts -- and we must begin to think globally in considering our response to crime.
INTERNATIONAL CRIME CONTROL
From the perspective of the United States, international crime presents a direct and immediate threat to our national security. On October 21, 1995, Presidential Decision Directive 42 (PDD42) was issued, ordering agencies of the executive branch of the U.S. government to: (1) increase the priority and resources devoted to this effort; (2) achieve greater effectiveness and synergy by improving internal coordination; (3) work more closely with other governments to develop a global response to this threat; and (4) use aggressively and creatively all legal means available to combat international crime.
The Attorney General has directed federal law enforcement to increase their cooperative efforts against international organized crime, including Nigerian organized crime. Attorney General Reno has personally taken the lead in tasking federal law enforcement with developing an effective strategy for dealing with Nigerian criminal enterprises. Later in this conference, you will be briefed on the development of the Nigerian Organized Crime Initiative (or NCI), and the ADNET / NCI system, the initiative's major channel of communication that provides a secure link among data bases of participating law enforcement agencies and allows full access to information and criminal case data relating to Nigerian organized crime. This morning however, I would like to spend a few minutes to discuss with you: (1) some of the things we are discovering about the nature and scope of Nigerian and West African organized crime; (2) the importance of developing a coordinated strategy for dealing with this problem; and (3) to encourage each of you and your respective agencies and organizations to continue to explore new ways to share information, expertise and resources with other law enforcement agencies on all levels.
NIGERIAN / WEST AFRICAN ORGANIZED CRIME
As you will hear in great detail from the law enforcement experts who will address you over the next four days, Nigerian organized criminal activity has escalated dramatically over the last decade, posing an ever-increasing threat, not only within the United States, but also on a global scale. Nigerian criminal enterprises have proven to be particularly adept at taking advantage of opportunities created by the rapid globalization of transportation and communications, and are now engaged in a broad range of criminal activity that reaches across borders and victimizes citizens, businesses and financial institutions in Africa, Europe, Canada, the United States and around the world. While we are simultaneously attempting to develop coordinated strategies to combat organized crime emanating from other parts of the world (for example: Russian organized crime and Asian organized crime), Nigerian criminal enterprises present unique challenges to law enforcement because their organizational structures and criminal activities are so varied.
In the past, defining the scope and extent of Nigerian criminal activity has been difficult because Nigerian criminal groups are highly fluid in personnel and in methods of operation. Although there is a degree of structure to these organizations, their hierarchical makeup and relationships are not comparable to those of more traditional criminal organizations. In terms of structure, NCEs seem to range from independent entrepreneurs to highly organized syndicates. These groups are able to change and adapt as needed, both in the nature of the criminal activities they pursue and in the members they use. This flexibility allows them to remain in operation and to insulate themselves from law enforcement. I know many of you here at this conference have personally experienced the frustration of attempting to identify and investigate elusive Nigerian criminal organizations by traditional means.
As many of you have discovered, although crimes committed by groups of Nigerians may seem unrelated, as law enforcement agencies continue to communicate and work together, connections and patterns are being developed in criminal activities from credit card fraud to drug smuggling, and from money laundering to identity theft . The speed with which some of these groups react to enforcement efforts and adopt new techniques demonstrates the effectiveness of their inter-group intelligence sharing and the coordination between the various syndicates. It is critical that we in law enforcement share information and coordinate our efforts as effectively as the syndicates we investigate if we are to be successful.
Nigerian Criminal Enterprises (NCE's) are known to engage in a myriad of criminal activity, including but not limited to: drug trafficking, especially heroin and cocaine; financial crimes; money laundering; fraud schemes; counterfeit documents; altered documents and immigration benefit fraud; trafficking in persons and contraband; and corruption. Experience has shown that seldom if ever are these enterprises engaged in one form of criminal activity to the exclusion of other types of crime. As you will hear from the speakers that follow, these poly-crime organizations are responsible for a significant amount of the heroin used in the United States, for much of the cocaine smuggled to Europe, Asia and Africa, and for financial crimes and fraud schemes costing Americans, and citizens of countries around the world billions of dollars a year.
Nigerian Criminal Enterprises (NCEs) are among the worlds most active traffickers in Asian heroin. According to US law enforcement statistics, as much as 30 percent of the heroin seized at US ports of entry in the last few years was taken from Nigerian controlled couriers. These drug trafficking activities have posed an increasingly sophisticated threat to the United States. This threat is evidenced by the expanding use of couriers of diverse nationalities, backgrounds, ages and genders, as well as their continuous altering of routes and methods of concealment. Upon successfully bringing heroin into the United States, smugglers give the heroin to Nigerian traffickers already established for local distribution. For instance, in the city of Chicago Nigerian traffickers are believed to control a significant portion of the heroin distribution market, and that city serves as an important hub for their heroin trafficking activity in the United States. DEA reports that Nigerian drug traffickers are responsible for 60 - 70 percent of all southeast Asian heroin brought into the Chicago area. DEA also reports that Nigerian heroin traffickers are active in the major metropolitan areas of the northeastern United States such as New York, Newark, Boston, Providence, Baltimore and Washington, DC., as well as in Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles and other areas of the country.
NCE's are motivated by high profit margins and tend to fill the lucrative niche markets not supplied by other major trafficking groups. For instance, at the moment NCE's are not significant traffickers of cocaine in the United States - when compared to the Mexican and Columbian organizations that dominate the market - but they are becoming major suppliers to the cocaine markets of South Africa, Western Europe , Russia and the Middle East.
"WHITE COLLAR CRIME"
In addition to the significant role they play in drug smuggling and distribution, Nigerian criminal syndicates are involved in a wide variety of financial fraud schemes that target private citizens, as well as businesses, particularly in the United States and Britain. Currently, U.S. investigations into the activities of Nigerian crime groups, by federal as well as state and local authorities, involve a wide variety of fraudulent activity. You will hear about law enforcement efforts in addressing most of these areas as the week progresses.
Focusing the efforts of law enforcement solely on drug trafficking, or solely on money laundering, or solely on any one of the "white collar" or fraud offenses I've just mentioned, or solely within geographic or jurisdictional boundaries however, does not address the full scope of the problem. Let me illustrate by sharing information on a recent investigation into the activities of Nigerian Criminal Enterprises. I know that some of you present today were involved in this case.
1. Three months ago, in July of this year, AP and the New York Times reported that a 268 count indictment was returned in New York state, charging a group of "Nigerian immigrants" with a host of criminal offenses including drug trafficking, grand larceny, credit card fraud and forgery. Nine individuals who had been operating out of multiple locations in Brooklyn and Queens were indicted. An initial investigation into heroin trafficking led police in New York City to this small but highly organized group that not only was involved in drug distribution, but had stolen the identities of over 1,300 people nationwide for fraudulent purposes. Queens County District Attorney Richard Brown reported that "In addition to heroin trafficking, the defendants were engaged in various fraudulent activities including a sophisticated series of identity takeover schemes and a conspiracy to forge financial documents (as well as drivers licenses and Social Security cards to help illegal immigrants obtain employment) and to file fraudulent tax returns." This criminal enterprise had access to about $10 million in credit. In one of their schemes, losses to banks and credit card companies exceeded $1.4 million. Most of the stolen money was sent back to Nigeria. Besides New York, the states affected by the activities of this criminal enterprise were: Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.
What began as a drug investigation of a relatively small group of individuals, developed into a large scale investigation that potentially involved drug trafficking, theft, credit card fraud, INS fraud, forgery, money laundering, tax evasion and possibly other violations of state and federal laws, and affected over 1300 individuals and entities in 21 states. As is often the case with Nigerian crime groups, the resources and proceeds generated from one form of criminal activity were used to fund and promote other criminal activity. I commend the New York Police Department and all those involved in the investigation of this case. One must ask however, "What single law enforcement agency, state or federal, has the jurisdiction, expertise, or resources to routinely investigate and prosecute enterprises such as this?" . We must continually develop new methods for sharing information, and coordinating our investigative efforts.
The key to success in an investigation such as this is the full cooperation between federal and state agencies.
THE NIGERIAN ORGANIZED CRIME STRATEGY
As these brief examples illustrate, the foundation of any response to transnational organized crime must be the coordination of law enforcement efforts. The pervasiveness of Nigerian crime has required us to devise a coordinated and comprehensive plan with participation by all U.S. agencies. In September of 1996, under the leadership of Attorney General Reno, the Departments of Justice, State, and Treasury and other law enforcement agencies began to develop the Nigerian Crime Strategy to identify and combat Nigerian criminal groups. The Strategy targets both domestic and international Nigerian criminal activity, and emphasizes increased coordination of U.S. law enforcement, the sharing of investigative leads and information, enhanced cooperation with our foreign law enforcement counterparts to coordinate multinational cases and investigations, and improving coordination and dialogue with the Government of Nigeria, especially Nigerian law enforcement officials, so we can strengthen their ability to combat crime occurring within Nigeria, and assist in combating crimes committed elsewhere in the world by individuals and organizations located in Nigeria.
Our law enforcement response includes participation from, and cooperation among, all Federal law enforcement agencies, including the U.S. Secret Service, FBI, DEA, INS, the U.S. Customs Service, U.S. Marshals Service (USMS), the Postal Inspection Service, IRS, Diplomatic Security Service, the National Drug Intelligence Center, FINCEN, as well as the State Department, DOD, the Intelligence Community, and our Federal prosecutors. Representatives from these agencies have formed an Interagency Working Group and have developed policies and operational plans to address the activities of the Nigerian criminal enterprises, adopted and funded a budget for sharing the funding of this initiative, and have agreed to share case information on the Department of Defense's Defense Information System Agency's Anti-Drug Network (ADNET).
As most of you know, the Interagency Working group has designated cities in the U.S. which are most affected by Nigerian organized crime where we will concentrate our coordinated efforts. Because of its historical knowledge and experience with fighting Nigerian crime, we relied on the Secret Services's established Nigerian task forces as places to start. As part of the Strategy, existing Secret Service task force locations, in which state and local law enforcement officials already participate, will host the expanded Interagency Nigerian Organized Crime Task Forces which will include the participation of agents from most of the other federal agencies. To date, the ADNET / NCI system of data bases is operational and the Nigerian Organized Crime Strategy has been presented to the law enforcement communities of Atlanta, Chicago, Newark, and New York. Beginning in January, presentations will be made in Houston, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington DC. Each of these task forces will have the full participation of an experienced Assistant United States Attorney to assist in the prosecution of Nigerian criminals. Working together, we hope to bring to bear the investigative, analytical, and prosecutorial tools of U.S. federal, state and local law enforcement to more effectively combat Nigerian criminal enterprises.
COORDINATION WITH NIGERIA
As I mentioned earlier in my remarks, Nigerian President Obasanjo and members of his government were in Washington the last week in October. In addition to high level bilateral meetings on law enforcement issues with Attorney General Reno, FBI Director Freeh, DEA Acting Administrator Marshall and others, representatives of Nigerian law enforcement met with their U.S. counterparts at the working level to discuss ways in which our two nations could work together to address the problems of Nigerian Organized Crime. These meetings included detailed discussions on the extradition of fugitives, mutual assistance on law enforcement issues, drug trafficking, passport and visa fraud, financial fraud, money laundering and other issues. The leaders of the newly elected government in Nigeria have pledged their full commitment to the fight against crime that adversely affects both our countries. The U.S. has committed law enforcement resources in Nigeria to assist the new government in their efforts. While these are extremely positive developments, we must continue to work with our counterparts in Nigerian to ensure that we fully coordinate law enforcement in the investigation, prosecution and, where requested, the extradition to the United States of criminals found within Nigeria's borders.
The challenge we face is great. But the progress we are making against Nigerian criminal elements, and the commitment by the new democratically elected government in Nigeria to become a full partner in these efforts is extremely positive. Increased cooperation among federal, state, and local officials in the U.S., our foreign partners, international organizations, and private institutions around the world, is clearly the model for successful law enforcement in the future, and the only way to make an effective and united stand against transnational crime. From a practical standpoint, full cooperation and coordination among varied elements of the international law enforcement community is never easy -- but it is definitely worth the effort and the only way, in our new, smaller, hi-tech world to insure success.