Since 1991, with funding from the Department of State, 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 pandemic-related crimes.
To facilitate its COVID-19 related work, OPDAT draws upon criminal justice experts, including its Resident Legal Advisors (RLAs), COVID-19 Coordinators for their respective U.S. Attorneys Offices, attorneys and cybercrime experts from the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS), as well as members of the U.S. Transnational and High-Tech Crime Global Law Enforcement Network (GLEN). The GLEN consists of International Computer Hacking and Intellectual Property (ICHIP) prosecutors posted to regional positions, 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 related expertise.
OPDAT helps counterparts combat:
- cybercrime, cyber-enabled crime (e.g., online fraud) and intellectual property crime, including fraudulent / mislabeled COVID-19 treatments;
- public procurement corruption;
- gender-based/domestic violence exacerbated by COVID-19 restrictions; and
- the spread of COVID-19.
- supports the rule of law generally.
Combatting Cybercrime, Cyber-enabled Crime, and Intellectual Property Crime
ICHIPs work to build the capacity of foreign prosecutors and law enforcement to fight cyber and intellectual property crimes related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Africa, the ICHIP has placed particular emphasis on combating fraudulent medicines that threaten human health and safety, including those related to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to building legal and law enforcement capacity in this area, the ICHIP is raising awareness on the ills of counterfeit pharmaceuticals. The ICHIP played an integral role in the U.S. Embassy Nigeria-produced movie Fishbone, which focuses on counterfeit medicine. A French language version of the movie has also been made to facilitate broader distribution on the continent of Africa by the ICHIP and the Department of State.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, in the Western Hemisphere, the ICHIP helped foreign partners combat cyber-enabled COVID-related fraud and shifted attention to e-commerce platforms used to sell counterfeit goods. These endeavors led to numerous seizures of counterfeit and potentially unprotective personal protective equipment throughout the region despite limited resources and personnel due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Nepal, OPDAT hosted programs on cybercrime and digital evidence for prosecutors and investigators, the Nepal Police Academy, and district and high court judges responsible for adjudicating all cybercrime cases. Following the judicial training, OPDAT worked to establish the framework for peer mentoring by U.S. judges to Nepali judges on cyber and digital evidence issues. OPDAT also provided digital evidence programming and partnered with the Council of Europe, Global Assistance on Cybercrime Extended (GLACY+) on cyber legislation reform for Nepal.
In Bangladesh, OPDAT worked with an ICHIP to host a program on the dark web marketplace for investigators and prosecutors. In addition, OPDAT also hosted a program on the utilization of digital evidence in investigations and prosecutions, including in cyber-enabled crimes.
Combatting Public Procurement Corruption
Throughout the world, OPDAT has provided capacity-building programs to combat COVID-19 related crime.
In Indonesia, for example, OPDAT educated over 100 bank executives on major trends in money laundering to include fraud scams involving personal protective equipment (PPE), charities, vaccines, and government stimulus payments. OPDAT also noted that similar to other transnational criminals, terrorist organizations have engaged in PPE fraud and sought to raise funds through charities.
In Bangladesh, OPDAT hosted a multi-day skills-development program for anti-corruption investigators and prosecutors focused on investigating complex financial crimes, utilizing documentary evidence in corruption cases, forensic accounting, and mutual legal assistance.
In El Salvador, OPDAT coordinated with the Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en El Salvador (CICIES), an arm of the Organization of America States, and the Attorney General’s Office in auditing COVID-19 relief funds received by El Salvador from the former and providing case-based mentoring on criminal prosecution referrals.
In Honduras, OPDAT, through its GATE anti-corruption task force (Specialized Technical Advisory Group), provided cased-based mentoring and technical assistance to anti-corruption prosecutors in cases involving fraudulent purchases by government entities of face masks and mechanical ventilators to be used by COVID-19 patients during the pandemic. On June 3, 2022, OPDAT-mentored prosecutors indicted four former government officials and three businesspersons for fraud and violation of official duties in the purchase of face masks to be used by medical personnel during the COVID-19 pandemic. On January 26, 2023, OPDAT-mentored prosecutors secured convictions against former Executive Director and Administrative Manager of INVEST-H (Strategic Investments of Honduras). Five defendants remain as fugitives in this case. Honduran prosecutors used skills acquired from the GATE task force’s capacity building and case-based mentoring, which led to successful trial convictions.
In Serbia, OPDAT co-hosted case-based mentoring roundtables for Serbian prosecutors to share best practices and raise awareness of proactive steps DOJ is taking to protect individuals and businesses from COVID-related crimes, including procurement fraud, bribery, and other forms of corruption.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, OPDAT provided case-based mentoring to Bosnian counterparts on several significant investigations that involve fraud in procurement of medical equipment during COVID-19. On December 20, 2020, OPDAT-mentored prosecutors indicted the Federation of BIH Prime Minister and Minister of Finance on corruption, embezzlement, and negligence offenses following their involvement in a procurement fraud scheme to purchase Chinese ventilators that were not suitable for COVID-19 treatment. OPDAT has also convened 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.
In Latvia, OPDAT engaged with the criminal justice and health sectors since the early stages of the pandemic.
In Bulgaria and Romania, OPDAT increased the awareness of counterparts to COVID-19-related fraud, including public procurement fraud, counterfeit medical treatment fraud, and corruption.
Combatting Gender-Based / Domestic Violence
In Albania, OPDAT provided training to victims’ advocates on supporting victims of domestic violence (DV), in response to the increase in DV incidents under the pandemic lockdown.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, and in Bangladesh, OPDAT brought together prosecutors, judges, and NGOs to discuss the justice system’s response to DV crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the Republic of Georgia, OPDAT conducted extensive programming to improve the capacity of judges, who are handling a marked increase in domestic violence cases during the pandemic. OPDAT partnered with the Department of State to furnish computers to the cadre of victim-witness advocates, which OPDAT helped establish and train, to enable them to work remotely during pandemic-related lockdowns.
In Kosovo, OPDAT worked with the government to establish new procedures for the protection of DV victims during the pandemic. OPDAT also provided training to helpline workers on counseling victims who experience violence during the pandemic and have reduced access to family and community-based support systems. OPDAT further arranged for the establishment of a dedicated quarantine facility for DV survivors. Finally, OPDAT partnered with DOS/INL to donate computer equipment to shelters so that child residents could attend virtual classes and to on-call prosecutors and victims’ advocates so that they could readily respond to DV cases.
In El Salvador, reports of gender-based violence increased substantially during the COVID-19 lockdowns. OPDAT continued its work to establish standards for presenting gender-based violence matters in the Courts for a Life Free of Violence and Discrimination for Women (LEIV). During El Salvador’s COVID-19 lockdown, OPDAT and the School for Judicial Capacity Building (ECJ) collaborated with the International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP) to host a virtual seminar on the best practices for conducting forensic interviews of vulnerable victims and witnesses to increase access to justice for women and members of other vulnerable groups.
OPDAT’s Judicial Studies Institute (JSI) assisted judiciaries in Latin America to develop best practices in combatting gender-based / domestic violence. To assist these needs, JSI designed curricula to include topics on judging without gender bias and domestic violence case management as part of a courtroom management and opinion writing special courses.
In Nepal, OPDAT works with the relevant government actors, NGOs, and the legal community to identify access to justice issues for victims of gender-based violence (GBV). OPDAT will host a conference to bring together relevant government and civil society actors to tackle under-reporting, gaps in and poor coordination of services to GBV victims and developing best practices. OPDAT is also working on a coordinated Counter-Trafficking-in-Persons (CTIP) strategy with U.S. Government partners on GBV issues, including legislative review and capacity building to law enforcement working on GBV and CTIP matters.
In Bangladesh, OPDAT provided training to investigators on supporting victims of domestic violence and taking a victim-centered approach to sexual assault investigations. OPDAT is also organizing the creation of a series of bench books for judges who adjudicate GBV cases to address best practices.
Combatting the Spread of COVID-19
During the initial outbreak, OPDAT’s Africa team began making inquiries and collecting information about our foreign partners’ remediation efforts, particularly as those relate to prison populations. OPDAT’s earlier efforts to encourage reductions in excessive pretrial detention gained urgency as countries began to confront the spread of the virus in overcrowded jails and prisons. With OPDAT’s encouragement and suggestions, several of OPDAT’s partners made thoughtful and historic reductions in their prison populations to address this threat.
In Ethiopia, according to the U.S. Embassy, over 44,000 prisoners were ordered released. OPDAT’s tracking 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. Throughout the pandemic, other African countries have followed suit and periodically released those held in pre-trial detention to combat the spread of COVID-19 in prisons.
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.
Supporting the Rule of Law Generally
In North Macedonia, OPDAT worked with criminal justice sector leaders and practitioners to ensure uninterrupted access to justice during the pandemic by organizing several workshops on online trials; media coverage of the judiciary in a pandemic; public access to court files; and court and case management during a health crisis.
In Kosovo, OPDAT advised the prosecution and judiciary on COVID-19 response measures and helped develop action plans for crisis management that the government adopted. This included assignment of on-call judges, permitting electronic filings, and tolling of statutory limitations when permitted by law. Additionally, OPDAT helped Kosovo hold its first virtual criminal hearings, allowing for the continued administration of justice without posing health risks to defendants, prosecutors, defense attorneys, or court personnel.
In Albania, OPDAT partnered with DOS/INL to provide computer equipment to the anti-corruption prosecution office that enabled them to telework and prevent the spread of COVID-19 while continuing vital operations.
In Indonesia, the Jakarta Corruption Court found a former Social Affairs Minister guilty of accepting $1.5 million in kickbacks related to government food assistance programs created to alleviate hunger during the COVID-19 pandemic. He was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment and ordered to pay over $1 million in fines and restitution. The prosecution team from Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) included prosecutors and investigators who had benefited from capacity building and mentoring from OPDAT. This is the fourth Indonesian minister in recent years who has been convicted by OPDAT-mentored KPK counterparts.
In the Western Hemisphere, through its Judicial Studies Institute (JSI), OPDAT assisted judiciaries in Latin America to develop best practices in providing access to justice during the COVID-19 pandemic. JSI designed curricula that included best practices in case management during virtual hearings and best practices to manage in-presence hearings while under COVID-19 restrictions.
In Paraguay, in November 2022, OPDAT-mentored prosecutors from the Attorney General's Corruption, Money Laundering, and Counterterrorism Finance Section indicted the ex-governor of the Central Department, Hugo Javier Gonzalez, in a million-dollar COVID-19 funding-related corruption scheme. The prosecutors also indicted a host of state government conspirators who allegedly participated and profited from the scheme.