Since 1991, OPDAT has provided expert assistance and case-based mentoring to foreign counterparts to develop justice systems that can combat transnational crime, corruption, and terrorism consistent with international standards (e.g., the UN Convention against Corruption). In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the rise of related crime throughout the world, OPDAT provides foreign counterparts with tailored assistance and case-based mentoring – within the scope of its authorized activities – to help detect, investigate and prosecute wrongdoing related to the pandemic. Specifically, OPDAT helps counterparts combat:
- cybercrime, cyber-enabled crime (e.g., online fraud) and intellectual property crime;
- public-procurement corruption;
- gender-based / domestic violence; and
- the spread of COVID-19.
- supports the rule of law generally during the pandemic.
In carrying out this assistance and case-based mentoring, OPDAT relies on its unique access to some of the most experienced criminal justice experts in the nation: the Department of Justice’s over 5,000 Assistant U.S. Attorneys and 600 Criminal Division attorneys. These experts include COVID – 19 Coordinators for their respective U.S. Attorneys Offices, as well as attorneys from the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS). They share with foreign counterparts their experiences in combatting COVID-19 related crime, including fraud and corruption and cyber-enabled and intellectual property crime. OPDAT’s programs are funded through interagency agreements between OPDAT and U.S. Government partners, primarily the U.S. Department of State.
(1) Combatting cybercrime, cyber-enabled crime and intellectual property crime:
The U.S. Transnational and High-Tech Crime Global Law Enforcement Network (GLEN) program is the result of a partnership between the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement Affairs (DOS/INL) and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (DOJ/CCIPS) and Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training (DOJ/OPDAT).
The GLEN is a global law enforcement capacity-building network of International Computer Hacking and Intellectual Property (ICHIP) prosecutors, computer forensic analysts, and federal law enforcement agents focused on delivering training and technical assistance to foreign law enforcement partners to combat intellectual property and cybercrime activity, as well as to assist in the collection and use of electronic evidence to combat all types of crime, including transnational organized crime (TOC).
Currently, ICHIPs are posted to regional positions in Africa (Abuja, Nigeria), Asia (Hong Kong S.A.R. and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), Europe (Bucharest, Romania, and the Hague), and Western Hemisphere (Sao Paulo, Brazil). Two subject-matter expert ICHIPs -- the ICHIP for Internet Fraud and Public Health (IFPH) and the ICHIP for Dark Web and Cryptocurrency (DWC) -- as well as DOJ computer forensic analysts and law enforcement officials with intellectual property and cybercrime expertise also form part of the GLEN. Later this year, ICHIPs also will be posted to Panama City, Panama; Zagreb, Croatia; and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Examples of their COVID-19 related work include:
- On August 5, ICHIPs partnered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Secretariat to present the tenth webinar in their COVID-19-related criminal enforcement series, entitled: “Seizure, Preservation and Analysis of Digital Evidence.” Seventy-five prosecutors, customs officers, administrative enforcement officials, criminal investigators and IP rights holders from Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, the Cook Islands, Fiji, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Northern Mariana Islands, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Tonga registered for the webinar. Additionally, officials from Australia and from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration observed. The Global Cyber Forensics Analyst and Director of DOJ CCIPS’s Cybercrime Laboratory was the featured speaker. He shared his vast expertise regarding seizure, preservation and analysis of digital devices and evidence in a 60-minute overview of best practices for criminal investigators and prosecutors, including partnering closely and productively with digital crime analysts.
- On August 4, ICHIPs hosted a webinar entitled: Fighting Counterfeit Pharmaceuticals: A Case Study, Part One. This is the fifth webinar in their Fighting Fraud & Fake Meds in the Time of COVID-19 series for the Anglophone Pharmacrime Working Group. During this webinar, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration Special Operations Manager / Special Agent and an ICHIP presented on strategies to combat sales of counterfeit pharmaceuticals to attendees from Kenya, the Gambia, Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Liberia, and Namibia, as well as officers from South Africa.
- On July 29, ICHIPs partnered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Secretariat to present the ninth webinar in their COVID-19-related criminal enforcement series: “Sentencing in IPR Cases.” Sixty-nine prosecutors, customs officers, administrative enforcement officials, criminal investigators and IP rights holders from Brunei Darussalam, Fiji, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Northern Mariana Islands, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam registered for the webinar. A U.S. federal district court judge was the featured presented, and he emphasized key sentencing factors that judges often consider in IP cases and walked participants through a mock sentencing hearing.
- On July 28, ICHIPs hosted their fourth in a series of webinars, entitled: “Fighting Fraud & Fake Meds in the Time of COVID-19” – a webinar for ICHIP Anglophone Pharmacrime Working Group. To encourage information sharing across borders, the ICHIPs invited the a senior official from Kenya’s Pharma Crime Investigations and Enforcement Unit to share his country’s challenges and successes in stopping fake COVID-19 cures and counterfeit pharmaceuticals. Attendees included working group members from Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana, Botswana, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Namibia.
- On July 23, ICHIPs presented the second in a series of webinars on IPR criminal enforcement for the Malaysia AGC and the Malaysia MDTCA. Thirty-two prosecutors and twelve investigators participated. An ICHIP’s presentation focused on best practices for combating online COVID-19 fraud, particularly the trafficking of counterfeit COVID cures. He led the participants through a survey of the major types of COVID fraud and covered the fundamentals on identifying online criminals, emphasizing the importance of identifying, preserving, and initiating early mutual legal assistance requests for, digital evidence located abroad, especially in the United States. Finally, he guided the participants through a mock financial investigation of the operators of an online criminal organization.
- On July 17, ICHIPs partnered with the Ghana RLA, the West Africa Legal Advisor, and the West Africa Regional Training Center, in Accra, Ghana, to conduct the second session in their webinar series for 28 prosecutors, investigators, and financial analysts from Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and The Gambia. This webinar focused on common COVID-19 fraud schemes designed to exploit fears arising from the global pandemic and techniques for how to investigate them. The ICHIP who led the webinar focused on three COVID-19-related crimes: fake cures peddled over the internet, counterfeit pharmaceuticals and PPE, and government benefits fraud. He provided examples for how law enforcement and prosecutors can use tools to help obtain evidence of attribution and of fraudulent intent.
- On July 16, ICHIPs presented the first in a series of webinars on IPR criminal enforcement for the Malaysia Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) and the Malaysia Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs (MDTCA), which investigates IPR crimes. Thirty-two prosecutors and 12 investigators participated. They discussed turning border seizures of IPR-infringing goods into viable criminal investigations and prosecutions. The ICHIPs focused on border seizures of COVID-19 counterfeit goods, especially in the U.S. They highlighted some of the measures taken by CBP to expedite inspection and seizures of COVID-19 fraudulent imports. The ICHIPs then outlined the steps necessary to turn substantial border seizures, especially of IP-infringing goods, into viable criminal investigations and prosecutions. The participants posed thoughtful questions on physical versus virtual inspection of suspected counterfeit goods by rights holders, the effect of a failed prosecution on a prior seizure of suspected counterfeit goods, and whether seizures of mail packages coming from abroad would implicate the same issues as a border seizure.
- U.S. Embassy Dhaka and ICHIP for the Dark Web and Cryptocurrency Hosted Webinar Series on Dark Web and Cryptocurrency to Provide Tools to Fight Transnational Crime and Terrorism
- Southeast Asia: on June 24, ICHIPs partnered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the Association of Southeast Nations Secretariat to present the fifth in a series of webinars, entitled: ENFORCEMENT AGAINST COVID-19 CRIME. This iteration of the webinar: “Turning Consumer Complaints About COVID-19 Crimes into Criminal Enforcement” was presented to 65 prosecutors, customs officers, regulatory officials, criminal investigators and IP rights holders’ representatives from Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Fiji, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Northern Mariana Islands, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Additionally, attorneys and IPR specialists from the Department and USPTO observed. The Director of the National Attorneys General Training and Research Institute’s (NAGTRI) Center for Consumer Protection (CCP) at the National Association of Attorneys General, and Program Counsel for the NAGTRI CCP were the featured experts. They discussed the interplay between consumer protection efforts and criminal enforcement and addressed a variety of major consumer protection issues arising during the COVID-19 pandemic, including: (i) fraudulent cure, treatment, protective, or testing products or services; (ii) price gouging on protective equipment and other consumer goods or services; (iii) contact tracing – privacy concerns and fraud concerns; (iv) refunds for canceled travel or events; (v) ensuring consumers receive relief payments; and (vi) mortgage services – protecting consumers’ homes from foreclosure.
- Southeast Asia: on June 23, ICHIPs presented the fifth webinar in their ongoing series, Enforcement Against COVID-19-related Crime, which focused on the interaction with consumer protection agencies and how to work with them to develop cases.
- Asia: on June 18, ICHIPs presented the second in their webinar series “Chasing COVID Criminals into the Dark: Introduction to Cryptocurrency” to an audience of 47 judges, prosecutors, customs officers, regulatory officials and criminal investigators from Bangladesh, Cambodia, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Kiribati, Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand. New Zealand officials observed.
- Southeast Asia: on June 17, ICHIPs partnered the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the Association of Southeast Nations Secretariat to present the fourth in a series of webinars on ENFORCEMENT AGAINST COVID-19 CRIME: “From Regulatory Enforcement to Criminal Enforcement.”
- Chile: on June 17, an ICHIP presented to approximately 330 Chilean police, prosecutors, and judges on best practices for preserving and obtaining electronic evidence from U.S. providers. The ICHIP highlighted the importance of preserving electronic evidence through the G7 24-7 network and strategies for preparing requests to providers. The ICHIP also discussed strategies for approaching U.S. registrars that may be hosting illicit online COVID-19 scams. Finally, the ICHIP stressed the importance of international and industry cooperation to secure preservation of valuable domain and account information from foreign providers in the early stage of these investigations.
- Africa: on June 16, ICHIPs, in conjunction with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the Council of Europe (COE), presented a webinar titled: “Cybercrime in Africa and the Challenges of International Cooperation.” The webinar provided an in-depth study of cybercrime investigations and prosecutions in the African Region and internationally, including an introduction to dark web marketplaces. INTERPOL and COE representatives discussed international support available, including the Budapest Convention. The ICHIPs emphasized their availability to provide support and case-based mentoring going forward. Sixty-five representatives from Benin, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Cote d'Ivoire, the Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Mauritius, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, and Tunisia participated.
- Africa: on June 15, ICHIPs, in collaboration with USPTO, held a webinar on common COVID-19 related crimes and how U.S. laws are used to combat these crimes for 30 prosecutors, investigators and regulators from Kenya, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania, Liberia, Zambia, and Namibia. The ICHIPs exchanged ideas with working group members and other interlocutors on mechanisms to charge offenses in their countries and to identify gaps in their legislation.
- Romania: on June 11, ICHIPs conducted a workshop on Tracing and Seizing Cryptocurrency to Investigate and Prosecute Cases for 80 Romanian Prosecutors and Law Enforcement Officers. This was the third webinar in a series that taught law enforcement representatives about the dark web, money laundering, and both basic and advanced cryptocurrency topics. The series also emphasized how criminals are trying to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic to commit crimes. The audience was made up of more than 80 Romanian prosecutors and law enforcement agents from the Ministry of Justice, General Prosecutors Office, organized crime units, economic police, the judicial police, and anti-corruption police. Representatives from Interpol were also part of the audience. In his opening remarks, U.S. Ambassador Adrian Zuckerman underscored the importance of this virtual cryptocurrency training, emphasizing that the skills acquired at the webinar will help ensure that criminals are not only caught and prosecuted but also deprived of their ill-gotten gains.
- Southeast Asia: on June 10, ICHIPs partnered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the Association of Southeast Nations Secretariat to present a webinar focused on leveraging border seizures of intellectual property infringing goods into viable criminal investigations and prosecutions. The webinar was the third in their COVID-19-related criminal enforcement series.
- Brazil: on June 9, ICHIP-mentored São Paulo Civil Police obtained and executed a search warrant at the recently reopened Shopping Tupan in the Bras neighborhood of the city. Authorities seized approximately 19 tons of counterfeit goods, including watches, clothing, cosmetics, and toys. Authorities briefly closed the mall last year after another major raid. The counterfeit goods infringed on marks belonging to U.S. rights holders including Disney, Nike, and Tommy Hilfiger. Authorities estimate the value of the seized goods at $1.7 million. The raid underscores, yet again, that the ICHIP-mentored interagency group continues to address trademark infringement related to COVID-19 despite limited resources and manpower due to the pandemic.
- Ecuador: In a June 3 webinar, an ICHIP discussed best practices for shutting down U.S.-based fraudulent COVID-19 related websites with approximately 167 Ecuadorean police, prosecutors, customs officers, and regulators. The ICHIP discussed various open source tools prosecutors can use to begin an investigation of a target site and identify the registrar. He then outlined various strategies for approaching registrars and hosting services in an attempt to have them remove fraudulent material or shut down the sites. Finally, the ICHIP stressed the importance of international and industry cooperation to secure preservation of valuable domain and account information from foreign providers in the early stages of an investigation.
- Balkans: ICHIPs and RLAs conducted a webinar on combatting crimes involving money laundering, cryptocurrency, and digital evidence for prosecutors and law enforcement officials from Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Latvia. The webinars were entitled: “Chasing Criminals and their Money during the Covid-19 Pandemic – Money Laundering, Cryptocurrency, and Digital Evidence” and “Advanced Topics in Cryptocurrency and Digital Evidence.” This webinar featured presentations on money laundering, on cryptocurrency fundamentals, and digital evidence, including digital forensics by the Director of the Justice Department’s Cybercrime Laboratory. Over 130 prosecutors and law enforcement agents from Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Bulgaria and Latvia participated in the introductory session, and 115 prosecutors and law enforcement agents attended the advanced session. INTERPOL officials also observed the two webinars.
- Africa: On May 21, ICHIPs led a virtual workshop and mentoring session for the Pharma Crime Working Group. Members participated from Ghana, Botswana, Zambia, Kenya, Namibia, Rwanda, Uganda, Nigeria, Liberia, and the Gambia. The ICHIPs focused on taking down fraudulent COVID-19 websites, including what to include in a request to service providers. An expert from the Justice Department’s CCIPS cyber lab described recent trends in cell phone forensics. Afterwards, a working group member asked for assistance in drafting cybercrime legislation. Then, on May 27, the ICHIPs, in coordination with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, led a virtual workshop on combatting fraudulent COVID-19 websites. Thirty representatives participated from Kenya, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Malawi, Botswana, Tanzania, and Liberia.
- Brazil: On May 21, an ICHIP participated in an international webinar hosted by the United Kingdom’s Intellectual Property (IP) Attaché in Sao Paulo for approximately 40 Brazilian prosecutors, police, and customs officers on best practices for investigating and taking down online COVID-19 scams. The French IP attaché and Mercado Livre, the region’s leading e-commerce platform, also participated in the program. The ICHIP discussed emerging trends in the sale of counterfeit goods in Sao Paulo due to COVID-19. The ICHIP also said that counterparts needed to prepare for a sustained migration by counterfeit vendors to online marketplaces as future waves of infection minimize foot traffic to physical malls. An ICHIP-mentored Brazilian prosecutor then explained how he had worked with Mercado Livre to take down approximately 6,000 suspect COVID-19 related postings. Their work also led Mercado Livre to ban approximately 1,000 sellers from the platform. The prosecutor thanked the ICHIP for helping him engage effectively with private industry to combat these scams. The program underscored the ICHIP Network’s success in sharing expertise and best practices with foreign counterparts so that they can successfully investigate and prosecute cyber and IP crimes, especially those stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Asia: On May 20, ICHIPs partnered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the Association of Southeast Nations Secretariat to present the first webinar of their COVID-19-related criminal enforcement series. The focus of the first webinar was best practices on taking down fraudulent COVID-19 related websites offering counterfeit, substandard, or non-existent personal protective equipment and pharmaceuticals. The ICHIPs emphasized that voluntary action has been the most effective and expedient enforcement method so far, especially for officials seeking to shut down websites hosted in foreign countries. Thirty-seven prosecutors, police officers, customs officers, criminal investigators and IP rights holders from various countries participated, including Indonesia, Korea, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam participated. Then, on June 3, the ICHIPs presented the second webinar for 132 prosecutors, police officers, customs officers, criminal investigators and IP holders from Cambodia, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Northern Mariana Islands, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Thailand, Vanuatu, and Vietnam.
- Romania: On May 19, an ICHIP co-hosted a webinar for 20 Romanian law enforcement officers on investigating ransomware attacks during the COVID-19 pandemic. The ICHIP partnered with the FBI as well as with the cybercrime unit of the Romanian Directorate for Combatting Organized Crime (DCCO). This is a timely topic because Romania, like the rest of the world, has been hit with a dramatic increase in cyber-attacks, particularly those that appear to be launched by transnational criminal organizations. U.S. Ambassador to Romania Adrian Zuckerman and Romanian Minister of Justice Catalin Predoiu provided opening remarks. Ambassador Zuckerman praised the importance of the global ICHIP program while Minister Predoiu called the collaboration with the U.S. Embassy and ICHIP program “a cornerstone in the strategy of action against domestic and international crime.” The feedback from participants has been very positive and the event received extensive media coverage within Romania.
- Romania: On April 30, in partnership with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and INTERPOL, an ICHIP organized and conducted a webinar focused on COVID-19 related cyber and IP crimes for more than 60 Romanian prosecutors, police and other government officials. U.S. Ambassador to Romania Adrian Zuckerman and Romanian Minister of Justice Catalin Predoiu delivered opening remarks. ICHIPs, alongside representatives from INTERPOL, EUROPOL, National IPR Center/Homeland Security Investigations, Food and Drug Administration, and Council of Europe, delivered presentations on topics ranging from best practices in investigating and prosecuting COVID-19 related cyber and IP crimes to measures to take down websites being used to perpetrate these offenses. The Romanian Ministry of Justice issued a press release in which the Justice Minister praised the event, highlighting not only that “[i]t is time to make sure that the Internet will not become a playground for cybercriminals and hackers,” but also that the cooperation between the Ministry of Justice and the U.S. government is “a cornerstone in our action strategy against domestic and international crime.”
- Malaysia: On April 23, an ICHIP led a webinar on cyberfraud and cybersecurity for 186 leading members of the private sector in Malaysia. The ICHIP covered the importance of law enforcement/private sector cooperation and best practices for companies to protect themselves against cybercrime as well as provided an overview of the current trends in COVID-19 related cybercrime, such as healthcare organizations being targeted for ransomware, increased numbers of COVID-19 related domains used for cybercrime, internet fraud and video-teleconferencing hijacking. Then, on May 14, ICHIPs hosted a webinar for senior managers from the Malaysian National Cybersecurity Agency (NACSA) on the current state of COVID-19 related cybercrime and how to takedown fraudulent COVID-19 websites. The ICHIPs discussed current COVID-19 cyber threats and U.S. law enforcement’s response to these crimes. The ICHIPs also explained the methods and processes for law enforcement officials to take down fraudulent Covid-19 websites.
- Niger: On March 27, an ICHIP-mentored police officer and member of the ICHIP’s Africa Regional Pharma Crime Working Group shared pictures of seized, unauthorized COVID-19 medicine with the Group.
- Brazil: On March 26, in an ICHIP-supported action, a state prosecutor in Brazil took down a fake site purporting to belong to a leading Brazilian brewery. The website publicized the distribution of free sanitizer, but in fact was infecting the computer systems of numerous Brazilian consumers with malware. The ICHIP-mentored prosecutor further requested that the site’s U.S.-based registrar suspend it and preserve any account and transactional data linked to the site. The investigation is ongoing, and the ICHIP continues to mentor the prosecutor remotely on this case and on best practices for engaging with U.S. registrars and providers. The ICHIP also put out a Public Service Announcement with tips for consumers to avoid online COVID-19 scams and to navigate the internet safely (posted on the U.S. Consulate in São Paulo’s Facebook and Instagram pages). Previously, ICHIP-mentored Brazilian Ministry of Justice officials created a webpage warning Brazilians about cyber scams exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic such as phone calls or emails ostensibly containing health updates or pleas for donations.
- Hong Kong: in honor of World IP Day, the ICHIP sent out a PSA encouraging collaboration on COVID-19 IPR criminal enforcement (produced by the U.S. Consulate and posted to its Facebook page).
- Nigeria: an ICHIP-produced video on the risk of counterfeit medicines was featured during a live TV show on the Nigerian Television Authority. Following the video, the ICHIP-inspired, Embassy-produced movie, Fishbone, on the risk of counterfeit medicines, was televised. The ICHIP's video and Fishbone were featured on all local and international NTA networks on April 26 in honor of World IP Day. To bolster engagement with online audiences, Fishbone premiered on YouTube on May 1st, 2020 and has generated over 72,000 views.
(2) Combatting public procurement corruption:
- The Balkans: On June 4, OPDAT hosted a roundtable for 50 participants from the Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian criminal-justice, private, and non-profit sectors on public procurement during the COVID-19 pandemic. The roundtable was organized in partnership with the Serbian chapter of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, which OPDAT helped to establish in 2018. The roundtable examined lessons-learned from emergency public procurements during the pandemic and best practices to mitigate risks of corruption, fraud, and waste. OPDAT recommended legislative changes to address future public health emergencies and model procurement practices to avoid conflicts of interest and enhance transparency. OPDAT also discussed several case examples from Bosnia and Herzegovina, which with OPDAT support, resulted in the initiation of significant corruption investigations. In countries where public-private dialogue is rare, this program demonstrates the need for government institutions to meaningfully engage with the private sector to combat public corruption and financial crime.
- Latvia: On May 21, OPDAT organized a virtual roundtable to enhance Latvia’s ability to proactively detect, investigate, and prosecute corruption, money laundering, and financial crime arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. The Latvian School of Public Administration co-hosted the roundtable. U.S. Ambassador to Latvia John Carwile and Justice Department DAAG Bruce Swartz delivered opening remarks. During the roundtable, DAAG Swartz offered practical advice on cooperating with U.S. authorities and with internet service providers to take down fraudulent websites used to perpetrate frauds and cybercrime. The roundtable was a forum to discuss coronavirus-related crime trends and investigation strategies. Panelists included an Assistant U.S. Attorney who is also his office’s Chief of the Financial Crimes Section and COVID-19 Fraud Coordinator, as well as representatives of the FBI and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
- Bulgaria: On May 20, OPDAT partnered with the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) of Bulgaria to host a webinar for over 100 participants from 23 different countries on crimes related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This was the first international program hosted by the NIJ. Along with the NIJ Director, the Secretary General of the European Judicial Training Network provided opening remarks. The OPDAT RLA presented on criminal fraud trends during the COVID-19 crisis, including healthcare and consumer fraud, financial fraud, and cyber-enabled scams. U.S. Embassy Sofia highlighted the webinar on its website and on social media:
- Serbia: On April 29, OPDAT co-hosted the first in a series of virtual case-based mentoring roundtables for Serbian prosecutors. The roundtable helped to share best practices and raise awareness of proactive steps the U.S. Department of Justice is taking to protect individuals and businesses from COVID-related crimes, including procurement fraud, bribery, and other forms of corruption. The appointment of COVID-19 fraud coordinators at prosecutors’ offices, the creation of e-hotlines for the public to report suspect frauds and corruption, and the formation of multi-agency COVID-crimes task forces are proactive measures that can help keep the public safe, in the United States and abroad.
- Bosnia and Herzegovina: OPDAT is providing case-based mentoring to Bosnian counterparts on several significant investigations that involve fraud in procurement of medical equipment during COVID-19. OPDAT has also convened four virtual roundtables for Bosnian prosecutors and public procurement officials to build coordination on the detection, investigation, and prosecution of fraud in emergency procurement during COVID-19. The virtual roundtables also helped raise awareness on other abuses that are taking place during the pandemic; they include illegal hiring in public institutions and donation of humanitarian funds with the intent to influence upcoming elections. Local prosecutors and officials note that OPDAT’s programs have helped raise awareness about abuses during COVID-19 and have resulted in multiple referrals of cases involving corruption in public procurement to prosecutors’ offices. The Tuzla Canton Prosecutor’s Office published a video on its YouTube page in which the office recognized U.S. assistance in establishing such cooperation within the government.
(3) Combatting gender-based / domestic violence:
- Albania and Kosovo: On May 6, OPDAT convened a regional meeting of victim advocates from Albania and Kosovo to discuss the challenge of responding to domestic violence crimes during the pandemic. OPDAT led discussions on the role of the victim advocate during the criminal justice process, techniques for promoting cooperation between prosecutors and victim advocates, lessons learned from the first two months of supporting survivors while under pandemic-related movement restrictions, and the development of best practices for providing protection and support to victims while under such restrictions. OPDAT facilitated the creation of victim advocate programs in both Albania and Kosovo, which serve as models for the region. Consequently, the techniques developed by these institutions to counter the rise in domestic violence cases will be instructive for counterparts across the Balkans.
- Bosnia and Herzegovina: On April 22, OPDAT co-sponsored with the Atlantic Initiative, a roundtable of prosecutors, judges, and NGO representatives throughout Bosnia to discuss the justice system’s response to domestic violence crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced many victims to shelter in place with their abusers.
- Albania: OPDAT has provided support to Albania’s Victim Coordinators, whose positions OPDAT helped to establish in partnership with Albania’s Prosecutor General’s Office, to continue helping victims of violent crime, including domestic and sexual violence, during the COVID-19 Pandemic. These Victim Coordinators are able to work remotely, thanks to laptops, which were donated through OPDAT prior to the onset of the pandemic.
- Kosovo: OPDAT has provided support for victims advocates and helpline providers who are assisting victims on domestic violence in Kosovo and experiencing increased danger from the COVID-19 movement restrictions. Through virtual instruction and consultations, OPDAT has provided guidance to victims advocates on developing safety plans with victims, presenting compelling evidence in domestic violence cases, and facilitating the use of risk assessment tools by judges when considering protection orders. OPDAT also supported the work of Kosovo’s emergency helpline providers by providing virtual training on counseling victims over the phone during the crisis.
(4) Helping to combat the spread of COVID-19:
- Africa: OPDAT has been tracking its African counterparts’ COVID-19 remediation efforts in their prison populations. In Ethiopia alone, according to the U.S. Embassy, over 44,000 prisoners have been ordered released. OPDAT’s tracking has helped spur discussion among African counterparts and others on how to advocate for early release and to approach excessive pre-trial detention and related priorities during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. In Cameroon, OPDAT has advised the Ministry of Justice, which supervises the prisons, regarding the dangers of COVID-19 in Cameroon’s prisons. On April 15, Cameroon’s President issued a decree commuting the sentences of numerous prisoners. According to the U.S. Embassy, over 3,000 convicted inmates have been released. In coordination with the CDC, OPDAT continues to advise the Ministry of Justice on reducing the pre-trial population and mitigating the risk of transmission by releasing inmates. In Mali, on April 14, OPDAT assisted the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children and UNODC in hosting a French-language online webinar, including a discussion on the impact of the global coronavirus pandemic on the vulnerability of children.
- Burma: In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, OPDAT drafted a series of detailed recommendations to assist the Burmese Government in preventing an explosion of COVID-19 cases in its overcrowded prison system, including reducing the prison population and introducing better practices to counter infectious diseases inside prisons. As part of the annual amnesty marking Thingyan, Burma’s Buddhist New Year, the Government announced that it was releasing 24,896 prisoners (of the entire 92,000 prison population).
- Qatar: In Qatar, an OPDAT alumnus was appointed to head the country’s newly created Health Prosecutions Office, which enforces measures taken by the Government of Qatar to contain the spread of COVID-19. The prosecutor previously had participated in the first U.S.-Qatar Prosecutor Exchange Program, an OPDAT program that familiarizes Qatar prosecutors with the U.S. justice sector.
(5) Supporting the rule of law during the pandemic:
- Kosovo: On June 3, OPDAT held a virtual workshop for Kosovo and U.S. judges to exchange best practices on virtual hearings and the use of technology to ensure judicial efficiency during the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. federal judges discussed best practices for remote judicial review of search and arrest warrants, virtual detention hearings, case prioritization, ensuring procedural rights during virtual proceedings, and virtual sentencing hearings. This judicial exchange allowed Kosovo judges to learn how to overcome challenges and disruptions caused by the pandemic. It also enabled the judges to explore and identify creative ways to move forward with hearings while adhering to social distancing requirements.
- Malaysia: On May 27, OPDAT hosted a webinar for 84 Malaysian counterparts on strategies on terrorism trials and courthouse procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic. OPDAT moderated the webinar, which included Chief Justice of Malaysia Tengku Maimun binti Tuan Mat, prosecutors, and law enforcement officers. Chargé D’Affaires Dean Thompson delivered opening remarks, and Justice Department DAAG Bruce Swartz provided closing remarks. In between, a U.S. federal judge discussed the three phases that he has designed to resume operations in his court and shared photos of clear plastic screens he has placed around his courtroom to protect staff and the public. The Malaysian judges expressed great interest in learning more about the three-phase protocol implemented by the U.S. federal judge. Chief Justice Tengku Maimun thanked OPDAT and Embassy Malaysia for hosting the webinar.
- North Macedonia: On May 12, OPDAT brought together three U.S. federal judges and more than 40 judges and judicial officials from North Macedonia for an exchange on virtual court management. U.S. Ambassador to North Macedonia Kate Marie Byrnes opened the event and discussed the importance of adapting judicial practices. Following presentations by the U.S. federal judges, OPDAT facilitated a discussion about ways judges could conduct pre-trial procedures and hearings virtually. The North Macedonia judges asked questions of the U.S. judges about ensuring the defendant’s right to counsel during virtual hearings, maintaining confidentiality in signing pre-trial warrants, and how different technological platforms are used in practice. The judges agreed that even when pandemic restrictions loosen, the judiciary must be prepared for the continued use of technology in the management of criminal cases. The event was publicized on the U.S. Embassy’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/USEmbassySkopje/posts/10157216679872157
- Bulgaria: The U.S. Embassy Resident Legal Advisor held a virtual roundtable on April 22 with representatives of Bulgarian civil society organizations. This is part of an ongoing series of roundtables that the Embassy holds with civil society representatives.
- The judiciary: From April 21-23, OPDAT’s Judicial Studies Institute held three virtual roundtables with alumni to discuss the challenges for courts of ensuring access to justice during the COVID-19 pandemic. Forty-nine judges from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panamá, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru participated. The judges shared their experiences and discussed how different countries’ judiciary are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Romania: On April 15, the U.S. Resident Legal Advisor hosted a virtual roundtable with representatives of Romanian civil society organizations on preserving the rule of law during the COVID-19 pandemic. The discussion centered on the implications of emergency measures on the rule of law, including access to justice, health and information. Participants also discussed government transparency and accountability and the pandemic’s impact on independent media and minority communities.
- Philippines: On April 14, OPDAT and CCIPS led a virtual roundtable for Philippine prosecutors on the implementation of “E-Inquest.” The newly launched electronic platform is for conducting virtual criminal proceedings in cases of warrantless arrests. OPDAT and CCIPS helped troubleshoot some problems associated with the rollout to ensure the continued use of “E-Inquest.” The workshop is now sought after by other Philippine justice sector partners who seek to employ similar means to carry out their mission amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Metro Manila and other cities in the Philippines are locked down with all courts closed for in-person hearings. The Philippine Supreme Court issued a directive for courts to use video conference court hearings for urgent criminal matters involving detainees. In response, OPDAT and CCIPS immediately hosted an online roundtable for a Cebu City Regional Trial Court judge, his staff, the city jail warden, and representatives from the prosecution and public defender’s office. Due to growing demand, ODPAT and CCIPS will provide future roundtables for other courts.
- El Salvador: El Salvadorian police have struggled to properly enforce the country’s quarantine law. OPDAT helped develop guidelines, which can be used by police to help them properly and fairly enforce the law. Separately, an OPDAT-mentored judge and alumnus of OPDAT’s Judicial Studies Institute inspected the conditions at a COVID-19 quarantine facility. Through its working relationship with judges in El Salvador, OPDAT has helped the country maintain the rule of law in the face of COVID-19 exigencies.
- Kosovo: OPDAT has provided extensive consultations with the Kosovo Judicial Council and Kosovo Prosecutorial Council on developing policy measures which will allow the justice system to continue essential operations and protect the rule of law during the pandemic. This assistance has resulted in the assignment of on-call judges and administrative staff, permitting electronic filings, tolling of statutory limitations when permitted by law, and the development of an action plan on how to deal with cases approaching the end of their statute of limitation.