Western Hemisphere

OPDAT’s Western Hemisphere Programs (WHP) provide capacity building and technical assistance to foreign prosecutors, judges, and investigators throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, most often through the deployment of experienced Resident Legal Advisors (RLAs). Currently, there are 21 RLA, two International Computer Hacking and Intellectual Property Advisor (ICHIPs) and one Intermittent Legal Advisor (ILA) positions in the region. OPDAT’s WHP programs, funded by the U.S. Department of State, are focused on a variety of subject matters, but the work in the region places a large emphasis on helping countries transition to the accusatory system and providing case based mentoring in relation to complex investigations involving transnational criminal organizations (TCOs).

WHP Programs

Colombia:

The Colombia program was initiated in 2001 as a U.S. law enforcement umbrella assistance program under Plan Colombia and was implemented jointly by OPDAT, ICITAP, and the U.S. Marshals Service. OPDAT’s signature project was the effective implementation of a new criminal procedure code enacted in 2005 and building the capacity of all parties to work under the new adversarial criminal justice system. Other programs included the establishment of victim assistance centers, an extensive witness protection and court security program; and developing and mentoring a specialized national unit for organized crime. Currently, the OPDAT program, led by three RLAs, supports and mentors specialized prosecutorial units combatting TCOs and money laundering. OPDAT has spearheaded the creation of four specialized working groups, in conjunction with the AGO, to provide case-based mentoring and specialized training to prosecutors who investigate and prosecute key transnational organized crime cases. OPDAT has developed bench books and guides which have been implemented by the Colombian judiciary and prosecutors to streamline hearings and processes for a more efficient judicial system. These guides are being shared and modified by countries within the region. In 2021, OPDAT has expanded its efforts with a program focusing on prosecuting financial crimes, money laundering and asset forfeiture and developing a Colombian task force to prosecute these cases, and expansion of our TCO program into selected rural areas.

El Salvador:

OPDAT's El Salvador program consists of three RLAs. One RLA mentors and supports specialized vetted task forces that target extortion crimes and TCOs against small businesses and crimes involving the public transit system. The second RLA is focused on providing technical assistance in relation to money laundering, asset forfeiture and anti-corruption efforts, as well as coordinating anticorruption capacity building efforts and case-based mentorship in the Northern Triangle Region. The third RLA focuses on building capacity with the judiciary.

Guatemala:

OPDAT deployed its first RLA in May 2016. The program focuses on providing capacity building on the transition to the adversarial system and case-based mentoring on complex investigations and prosecutions, such as cases related to TCOs, i.e. counter-narcotics, organized crime, money laundering, corruption, and extortion. In spring of 2021, the program expanded with the addition of two RLAs. This increase has allowed the program to focus on three distinct portfolios: anti-human smuggling and trafficking in persons, corruption and combatting transnational criminal organizations. The anti-human smuggling RLA will also coordinate these efforts in the Northern Triangle region.

Honduras:

The OPDAT Honduras program focuses on providing technical assistance and improving the capacity of justice sector actors. Additionally, the program works to improve the quality of prosecutions to combat transnational and domestic crimes such as organized crime, including corruption, gang crime, narcotrafficking, trafficking in persons and smuggling, money laundering and customs offenses. The program also focuses on building an anti-corruption task force to assist Honduras in investigating and prosecuting these cases. In spring of 2021, the program expanded with the addition of two RLAs. This increase has allowed the program to focus on three distinct portfolios: anti-human smuggling and trafficking in persons, corruption and combatting transnational criminal organizations.

Mexico:

OPDAT’s Mexico program is significant in both strategic importance and size, with six RLA positions in-country. OPDAT/Mexico has provided comprehensive training for Mexican prosecutors and other justice sector officials to facilitate Mexico’s transition to an adversarial system. Over the past several years, OPDAT has successfully collaborated with the Government of Mexico on drafting legislation, most notably on the National Criminal Procedure Code, which was passed in February 2014, the 2012 Witness Protection Law, the 2014 Law on Alternative Justice and an Asset Forfeiture Law. The RLAs provide technical assistance and case mentoring to Mexican legal and law enforcement professionals in the following areas: combatting TCOs, money laundering, trafficking in persons and judicial capacity building.

Panama Counter-Terrorism and Money Laundering:

OPDAT’s program in Panama focuses on implementing and supporting programs aimed at strengthening efforts against counterterrorism, money-laundering and financing of terrorism (AML-CFT), improving the capacity of Panamanian criminal justice actors to detect, investigate and prosecute terrorism and related criminal activity, as well as complex financial and organized crimes. The ILA will focus on case-based mentoring and developing capacity building programs designed to provide important skills training to justice sector actors in areas such as counterterrorism, financial investigations, money laundering, terrorist financing and asset seizure. The ILA will also provide technical assistance on assessing relevant legislation. An ILA is expected to deploy in 2021.

Argentina Counter-Terrorism Program:

OPDAT deployed a CT funded RLA to Argentina in 2017 who focuses on supporting counter-terrorism efforts in Argentina, but also Brazil and Paraguay and the Tri-Border Area (TBA). The program seeks to strengthen the capacity of Argentina to identify, investigate, prosecute, and disrupt terrorism, terrorist financing, money laundering, and the predicate crimes which produce illicit funds. The RLA works to update Argentina’s legal and regulatory framework; providing case-based mentoring to judges, prosecutors and police; providing skills-based training to judges, prosecutors, and police; working with relevant authorities to better cooperate and share information with counterparts in neighboring countries and with the United States in cases of terrorism, terrorist financing, money laundering and other complex crimes; and assist the respective posts to advance their justice sector reform programs and overall missions.

Paraguay Counter-Terrorism Program:

OPDAT’s AML-CT work in Paraguay began in 2015 with an ILA. In September 2018, the program expanded and OPDAT deployed its first RLA to support counter-terrorism efforts. The RLA coordinates and provides technical assistance to counter terrorist financing and provides case-based mentoring to build capacity to investigate, prosecute, and adjudicate terrorist and terrorist financing cases. Further, the RLA works with Paraguay justice sector officials to establish a financial crime and terrorist financing task force, comprised of analysts, investigators, and prosecutors, to assist in intelligence sharing and improving the seizure and/or freezing of assets related to terrorism financing.

Brazil Counter-Terrorism Program:

OPDAT deployed its first ILA in January 2020 to support counter-terrorism efforts in Brazil. The ILA program provides technical assistance and works with Brazilian prosecutors and investigators to combat terrorist financing and help freeze assets related to terrorist financing and assists Brazil in developing designations of terrorist groups. The ILA coordinates with the Argentina and Paraguay programs. In 2021, the program expanded and OPDAT is expecting to deploy an RLA this year.  

Judicial Studies Institute:

The Judicial Studies Institute (JSI) was inaugurated in Puerto Rico in April 2012 as a result of the efforts of the Honorable Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, and a unique collaboration between the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of State, members of the U.S. and Puerto Rico judiciaries, and the University of Puerto Rico and Interamerican University law schools. Its mission is to strengthen the capacity of judges from Latin American countries making the transition to an adversarial criminal justice system. JSI leverages Puerto Rico’s use of the adversarial system, coupled with a shared language and culture, to offer Latin American judges a full immersion in the adversarial system that includes academic classes, courtroom visits and practical exercises. Sessions are held in Puerto Rico, and include Modules I and II, specialized and court administration courses. Since 2012, over 943 judges hailing from Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Uruguay have participated in JSI and 1,136 judges have participated in special virtual courses and roundtables.

Recent Programmatic Activities

Readout of Justice Department Leadership Meeting on Human Smuggling and Trafficking Networks

Updated November 5, 2021

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