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Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell Speaks at Catholic University of Colombia on Strategic International Cooperation in Fight Against Transnational Crime


Bogota, ,

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you, Paula [Ramirez], for that warm welcome.  It is a privilege to join you all here in Bogota. 

I would like to recognize the president and members of the Colombian Supreme Court, Acting Attorney General Jorge Perdomo, ministers and so many other distinguished dignitaries, members of the diplomatic corps, business and academic leaders for their hospitality, support and steadfast collaboration over the years.  I would like to give special thanks to the Chancellor of Catholic University, Dr. Francisco Gomez, for creating this forum, hosting the event in this beautiful, eco-friendly and technologically sophisticated building—a truly one-of-a-kind place—and for giving me and my team such a warm welcome.  And I’d like to thank all of you here today for your partnership, your passion and your ongoing dedication to the cause of justice.

Today, I would like to speak with you about strategic international cooperation in the fight against transnational organized crime.  Colombia is a fitting place to address this subject.  Our joint work in this fight dates back decades and has paid dividends for the safety of both of our countries, our neighbors and the world.  Having this discussion in this university and law school is particularly fitting, as this institution is training future attorneys and leaders—our future partners—in this ongoing initiative.

The practice of law has never been more global.  That is why events like this are vital in bringing together the Colombian and U.S. legal communities to generate renewed commitment to cooperation, security, opportunity and justice in both of our countries.  As our world grows ever more interdependent and interconnected, collaboration has only increased in importance.  It is important that we do this together, and it is equally important that everyone know we are working together as partners, especially given our mutual respect for each other and the accomplishments we have achieved together.

So it will come as no surprise to you that the U.S. Department of Justice—and in particular, the Criminal Division—has made great efforts to develop relationships with law enforcement and justice communities around the world, using our relationship with Colombia as a model.  The Criminal Division now has prosecutors stationed in at least 45 countries.  And we have cases stemming from criminal conduct on every populated continent.

But our relationship with Colombia is in many ways unprecedented.  It is very special.  It is a model for collaboration and cooperation.  And it has a promising future as we extend our cooperation into new frontiers.  So I will take this opportunity today to address two facets of our relationship: first, I would like to highlight the way in which our mutual cooperation and assistance in criminal matters has evolved over time and second, I would like to project where that relationship might be going, as we confront new challenges in a quickly evolving world.

A quarter-century ago, the United States and Colombia first entered into a mutual legal assistance treaty regarding extradition.  Cooperation between the United States and Colombia then began in earnest in 1997 when Colombia made amendments to the Colombian constitution that permitted the modern extradition framework. 

In more recent years, we faced an uncertain landscape in criminal justice.  In Colombia, as in the United States and around the world, we began to grapple with the increasingly transnational nature of crime, resulting in large part from the increasing movement of people, products and information across borders.  Those changes called for a firm commitment to international cooperation and mutual assistance.

Together, we have taken that responsibility seriously.  From judicial and prosecutorial training to joint investigations aimed at dismantling cartels, from transmittal of sensitive evidence to the extradition of high-level criminals, we have worked together to support and invest in mutual cooperation and rule of law institutions in both of our countries. 

One of the most important—and hopefully lasting—partnerships between our two countries has been forged through training.  Two components of the Criminal Division have been instrumental in this area.  The International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program, or ICITAP, works with foreign governments to develop professional and transparent law enforcement institutions that protect human rights, combat corruption and reduce the threat of transnational crime and terrorism.  The Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training, or OPDAT, provides legal advisors to work with our international partners to expand capacity, enhance cooperation and provide technical assistance in combatting money laundering, terrorism and human trafficking, among others.

At Colombia’s invitation, the Criminal Division embedded a career prosecutor here to participate in the training of thousands of judges, prosecutors and law enforcement agents in every corner of this country.  Together, we created the Human Remains Processing Center in Medellin, which is now a worldwide leader in DNA identification and forensic anthropology.  We supported your development of the Colombian National Organized Crime Unit, which now has prosecuting attorneys stationed across Colombia and is recognized as one of the most successful units in the region in the investigation and prosecution of organized crime.  These are just a few of the initiatives we have undertaken together in fulfilling our pledge of cooperation and assistance.  These are some of the bedrock successes on which we have built our strong and lasting relationship. 

Training, of course, is only one part of our strategic approach to fighting transnational crime.  Success also requires effective channels of communication.  That is why the Justice Department has lawyers on the ground here and across the world.  For approximately 20 years now, the Criminal Division has stationed two seasoned federal prosecutors right here in Bogota at the U.S. Embassy.  The goal is to facilitate communication, evidence sharing and operational support between the U.S. and Colombian governments.  Our in-country team works collaboratively to foster the bilateral institutional and personal relationships that are the foundation for our law enforcement successes.  These sorts of relationships are essential to our mutual operational endeavors. 

To be sure, our relationship is truly a two-way street.  When we have needed your support in criminal justice matters, you have stood by the men and women of the Department of Justice and the American people.  When we have needed evidence and operational assistance in cases that seek to vindicate harm to our national security or the safety of our communities, our friends and partners here in Colombia have consistently joined us in seeking justice.  We have indeed learned many lessons together about how to fight transnational organized crime in its many forms and the impunity it produces. 

But you have taken this relationship a step further and have exported those lessons learned to the region and other parts of the globe.  Colombia is now clearly a recognized leader when it comes to criminal justice reform and expertise in battling organized crime.  Jurists from other countries consult with you as they launch their own accusatory systems.  Legislators and jurists from other countries are inspired by your asset forfeiture code reform.  And you have sent organized crime prosecutors to regional partners to share your experiences effectively investigating and prosecuting Bandas Criminales, or BACRIM, and other forms of organized crime. 

The regional and international leadership Colombia has shown in criminal justice cooperation is evident in your operational efforts as well.  Just a few weeks ago, working hand-in-hand with American, Mexican and Spanish law enforcement, Colombian authorities successfully dismantled a complex money laundering network involving the bulk cash smuggling of hundreds of millions of dollars from organized criminals working for a major airline here in Colombia.  That is the regional cooperation and leadership I am proud to acknowledge this morning.

I would like to stress that U.S. assistance and our joint cooperation would be meaningless without the effort and sacrifice of the Colombian people whose bravery and sacrifice is self-evident, and in particular the courageous judges, prosecutors, investigators and others in Colombia, whose contributions are the cornerstone of ensuring justice here.  The Criminal Division’s top prosecutors will continue to provide their expertise and assistance to their Colombian colleagues in combatting organized crime, in particular as to BACRIM, and look forward to learning together better ways to combat the ever evolving area of transnational organized crime.

This brings me to the future.  As Colombia approaches the potential promise of peace after decades of war, strengthening our joint efforts against all kinds of crime is now more important than ever.  Our commitment to Colombia and to the Colombian people remains steadfast.

The threats we face in today’s truly global society are no longer restrained by borders or oceans, or limited to one country or region.  They are facilitated through the use of new technologies.  Already, we can access the world with the “smartphones” we carry in our pockets.  But these same technologies also are used by those who would do us harm.  Rather than rob a single bank, with all the risk of violence and capture, a computer hacker sitting in his basement can rob the equivalent of thousands of banks in a few minutes, with a keystroke rather than a gun. 

Further, the problems affecting one nation can easily affect us all.  With corruption, financial crime, money laundering and cybercrime, among others, we are faced with global challenges that require a truly global response.  That is why it is essential that we continue to examine and leverage new tools to enhance our fight against transnational crime.

The increase in globalized business has drawn international corruption into the spotlight.  Unfortunately, corruption is present in all countries.  It makes our nations less safe, thwarts economic development, traps entire populations in poverty and leaves countries without a credible justice system.  Corrupt officials who put their personal enrichment before the benefit of their citizenry create unstable countries.  And as we have seen time and again, unstable countries become the breeding grounds and safe havens for terrorist groups and other criminals who threaten the security of us all.

For this reason, the Criminal Division has focused significant prosecutorial resources into investigating foreign corruption, especially that involving American businesses.  In the United States, in addition to our domestic anti-bribery and fraud laws, we have the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, or FCPA.  The FCPA prohibits the paying of bribes to foreign government officials to assist in obtaining or retaining business, and it applies to most companies whose business has a nexus to the United States.  This law mirrors Colombia’s newly-passed transnational corruption regulatory law, except that the FCPA is a criminal law.  Through the FCPA’s extraterritorial reach, the United States ensures that its corporate entities do not contribute to a climate of corruption in the foreign countries where they operate, and that they do not undermine the free market through unfair economic advantage.

Enforcement of the FCPA frequently requires effective international cooperation.  Just last year, for instance, the former co-chief executive officer of PetroTiger Ltd.—a British Virgin Islands oil and gas company with operations in Colombia and previously an office in the United States—pleaded guilty to conspiring to pay bribes to a Colombian official at EcoPetrol in exchange for securing a $45 million oil services contract.  This was the third former executive of PetroTiger to be convicted in connection with that conspiracy.  Throughout the investigation, the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section enjoyed close cooperation with and significant assistance from our Colombian law enforcement partners and others within the Colombian government.  As Colombia’s economy continues to expand and as its business ties to the United States continue to develop, we hope to build on that partnership with Colombia in the context of anti-corruption.

Criminal prosecution is only one aspect of the rule of law and justice.  Seizure of the assets and proceeds derived from corruption or financial crimes as well as other crimes is also essential.  The genesis of most criminal activity is greed, wealth and power.  Putting criminals in jail is not enough.  You must take away the very reason for their acts—the wealth and benefits they attained illegally and at the expense of innocent victims.  Within the Criminal Division, we rely on the expertise of our Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section for sensitive and highly-sophisticated money laundering investigations and forfeiture proceedings.  I hope that by sharing our experiences in this area, we can assist in the successful implementation of Colombia’s recently enacted asset forfeiture law.  Forfeiture in the context of cross-border crime requires coordination, and so we also hope to conclude an asset-sharing agreement to permit the United States to share forfeited assets with Colombia, to return stolen assets that belong to the Colombian people.  Our long-term vision is to build a partnership with Colombia in this area, which is critical to rule of law and justice.

As I noted earlier, technological advances have changed the way crime occurs and the harms it can cause.  Perhaps the most significant growth of transnational crime is seen in cyber space, which affects the security of our most sensitive information, from personal data to intellectual property.  And cybercrime is no longer the exclusive territory of the technologically savvy.  Pre-programmed hacking tools are now available in online criminal forums for purchase by any buyer, including members of organized crime syndicates.

Cybercrime rarely stays within one nation’s borders.  Hackers steal personal information located in one country, they remove the data to servers in another country and they count their profits in a third.  And sophisticated cybercriminals knowingly take advantage of international borders and differences in legal systems, hoping—often with very good reason—that investigators in the countries where their victims are will not be able to identify them, or to obtain evidence from abroad or that their home countries will never extradite them to face justice.  Because cyber-criminals act across borders, we must coordinate and reach across our borders as well.  We must be innovative, move quickly and work together.

The Criminal Division enjoys the expertise of specialized attorneys and others in our Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section, whose prosecutors stand ready to work with Colombia in this new frontier. 

The Justice Department is also undertaking a number of other strategic initiatives to respond to the new international criminal landscape.  In particular, we are taking steps to significantly grow our Office of International Affairs, or OIA, through the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty Modernization Project, which will improve our ability to engage efficiently and effectively with our counterparts around the globe.  In an age where communication is instantaneous, our responses to each other regarding mutual legal assistance requests need to keep pace.  We have also created a cyber unit in OIA that is dedicated to responding to and executing requests for electronic evidence from foreign authorities—requests that have increased by over 1,000 percent over the last decade.  Of course, mutual legal assistance cannot be our only means of obtaining evidence that may be stored overseas, but our efforts to improve our bilateral relationships and our own MLAT response are essential in a world of increasingly global crime. 

The modern world presents us all with many challenges, but in each of those is also an opportunity—an opportunity we can only fully grasp when we work together.  With the support and partnership of the criminal justice, government, business and academic minds represented here today, I am confident that—whatever obstacles we may face—a strong partnership between Colombia and the United States can help build stronger nations, safer communities and the more just global society that all our citizens deserve.

Updated April 14, 2016