Department of Justice Seal

Larry D. Thompson
Deputy Attorney General
Welcoming Videotaped Remarks*
ILEA Conference
Budapest, Hungary
February 2002
(Videotaped February 8, 2002)

     Good Morning. Unfortunately, I am not able to attend this conference in person as I had planned due to matters of state arising from the events of September 11th. Therefore, I am delivering my opening remarks for this very important event via videotape.

     I would like to welcome you to the International Law Enforcement Academy. All of us are involved in the criminal justice system in some way - whether it be as a law enforcement official, administrator or legislator. I hope that the following days of the conference will help us to better address the common challenge of growing international crime and the role of the public prosecutor in combating it. It is important that this academy is called the "International" Law Enforcement Academy and not the "United States" or "American" Law Enforcement Academy. Its very name recognizes the importance of various countries working together against a common enemy: Crime.

     We gather here from many different countries, the United States, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Moldova, the Netherlands, Scotland, Lithuania, Armenia, Latvia, Estonia, Russia and Ukraine. Our countries have different histories and varied legal systems. We do not all speak the same language - as the translators and headphones make very clear. We have a number of differences but are all presented with the same challenge: Change.

     In the last decade we have witnessed unprecedented change in the world. Revolutionary changes in governments, legal systems, transportation, and communication have created a climate in the world that did not exist a short time ago. Most of these changes have been for the better and we welcome them.

     But some of these recent developments have not been welcomed. Criminals have taken advantage of these recent changes that allow them to travel more freely and to move money from jurisdiction to jurisdiction with the touch of a button on a computer keyboard. We are also seeing crime in our changing world that not too long ago was not a focus of enforcement efforts such as computer crime, human trafficking and money laundering. Crime has become much more international in character because criminals see a benefit in conflicting or fuzzy jurisdiction for law enforcement organizations. They know that by operating across various borders they are less likely to get caught because of jurisdictional uncertainty or the inability of law enforcement organizations from various nations to work together effectively.

     It has become apparent to me and my colleagues at the Department of Justice that in order to address this increasing international criminal activity we must continue to build effective ways to work with our law enforcement colleagues in other countries. Different languages, different legal systems, lack of extradition and mutual legal assistance treaties all create impediments to effective prosecution of transnational crime.

     We need to work together to remove these impediments to enforcing our laws and protecting our citizens from the international criminal.

     The US Department of Justice has made an effort to increase our own ability to work in and to better understand the international environment. We have increased the number of US law enforcement personnel stationed overseas. A number of you have FBI agents and Department of Justice prosecutors stationed in our embassies in your countries. This is part of our effort to work more closely with you and other countries to help combat criminal activity and to assist in developing better laws and enforcement mechanisms to deal with criminal activity. Today two of our attorneys - Jim Robinson and Chris Lehmann - who are stationed in Kazakstan and Russia are with you and will be participating in the program.

     Not too long ago, the Council of Europe convened a group of our colleagues to examine what the role of the prosecutor should be in a democracy. Victor Stone who will be speaking to you later in the program was the Department of Justice representative to this group. They have distilled their thoughts and recommendations into a report that you will discuss in detail over the coming days. It has become much more common for the international community to join together in the fight against transnational crime. In addition to the Council of Europe, a number of international conventions address common areas of concern such as narcotics trafficking and organized crime. The international community has reached a consensus on what crimes are a threat to us all and has laid out standard frameworks by which we can collectively combat this crime. This trend of international action against crime is a good one, but it also provides us with the challenge that our legal systems be sufficiently harmonized so that we are able to successfully prosecute transnational crime.

     I believe that the role of the prosecutor in a democracy is unique. We are obliged to seek justice for an accused, not to merely convict. We also have a duty to protect the rights of victims and witnesses. The law must be applied with an equal hand if our democracies will continue to thrive. The promises of our laws and the protections they afford to each and every citizen must be living and real. It is crucial that the public prosecutor be perceived as and be impartial and fair in his actions. For this reason, the Department of Justice has placed a number of restrictions on the political activity of its prosecutors and has decentralized the decision and discretion of whether to prosecute any particular case. Indeed, I believe that the role of the public prosecutor is central to the proper functioning of our democracies.

     In addition to the changing circumstances of global criminal activities, many of you are also confronted with wholesale changes and reform to your existing legal systems. Many of these changes significantly alter the way prosecutors work and function. Frequently powers that you once had have been reduced and procedures have been adopted that are unfamiliar and alien.

     We now hope that by all of us sharing some of our experiences, we can be helpful to each other in this time of significant change. We - and I am certain the other participants in the conference as well - are interested in listening to and learning from your experiences on the front lines of criminal justice reform. We want you to be successful in these efforts because the United States's and each attending country's ability to effectively deal with the challenges of international crime is very much dependent on your success in this reform effort. Similarly we stand ready to work with you in your reform efforts and initiatives to combat international crime.

     The United States recognized not too long ago that it is necessary for our law enforcement agencies to enhance operational links with foreign governmental authorities and civic leaders. We have recognized that there is a need for a seamlessly cooperative effort between U.S. law enforcement agencies and related agencies around the globe. Meetings such as these help us to work together towards that goal.

     We have learned from recent experience that American juries will accept evidence generated from other countries if they believe that it was gathered in a fair and reliable manner. But if they have doubts about the fairness of a foreign jurisdiction they will quickly discount that evidence. That is why it is in our interest for the legal systems of all our partners in the fight against crime to be perceived as fair and just. It is, therefore very much in the interest of the United States that you all be successful in your reform efforts. Your ability to effectively deal with crime and criminals in your homeland is important to us and we want you to be successful.

     I encourage you to fully participate in the challenging discussions that will occur over the next several days. Ask questions, give opinions and enjoy yourselves. I hope that your work together here will help us in the future to more effectively serve each other, our fellow citizens and our democracies.

     Thank you.

*NOTE: Mr. Thompson frequently speaks from notes and may depart from the speech as prepared. However, he stands behind the speech as presented in written format.