Justice News

Attorney General Sessions Delivers Remarks at the Global Forum on Asset Recovery Hosted by the United States and the United Kingdom
Washington, DC
United States
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Monday, December 4, 2017

Remarks as prepared for delivery


Thank you, Sandie, for that kind introduction, and thank you for taking your extensive experience in the legal community and in the business world alike and putting it to good use here at the World Bank.

On behalf of President Trump, I want to thank Baroness Williams and the U.K. delegation.  The United States is proud to co-host the forum with you.  We are proud to call attention to the important work that’s been done – and the important work that lies ahead – in our shared fight against crime.

I also want to recognize our distinguished guests from the four focus countries and from our partners in Brazil and Switzerland.

Thank you to the World Bank, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and everyone else who helped organize this inaugural Global Forum on Asset Recovery.

It is an honor to open the forum today.  I think this is a unique opportunity to bring together investigators, prosecutors, judges, policy-makers and civil society organizations so that we can learn from one another and build relationships.  And that is critically important to us all.

Year by year and day by day, our economies have become increasingly interconnected.  And just as our economies have gone global, so too have the consequences of criminal activity. Criminals are not bound by borders.

Bribes paid to an official in West Africa can be spent on a yacht in Miami.  Dangerous drugs produced in Afghanistan or Colombia can kill a teenager in Cincinnati or Sydney.

A social media post in Syria can inspire a terrorist attack in Europe.  A criminal from Mexico can victimize innocent people in Portland or San Francisco.

In the United States, we know all too well that the consequences of crime can be international.

People across America today are talking about the tragic death of Kate Steinle, a 32-year old woman who was shot in the back walking along a pier in San Francisco.  The man holding the gun had illegally entered the United States six times.

He admitted that he was in San Francisco because the city does not cooperate with immigration enforcement.  He illegally entered 5 times and was charged 10 crimes.

He should not have been in the country in the first place.  Kate Steinle would be alive today if our government had carried out its duties to enforce the law and protect its citizens.

Each one of us—whether we are prosecutors, judges, or legislators—have a responsibility to pursue the common good for the people we serve.  And while each of us has limited jurisdiction, we must recognize that the consequences of our actions can be felt around the world.

You can be sure of this: the United States will do our part.  And we urge every government to do their part, as well.

Over the next few minutes, I’d like to discuss a few of the ways the United States is cooperating with our law enforcement partners across the globe and achieving successes that benefit all of us.

First of all, we have seized or restrained $3.5 billion worth of corruption proceeds involved in money laundering offenses.

Since 2004, the United States has returned millions in corruption proceeds to compensate victims.

That includes approximately $119 million to the people of Italy, $115 million to the people of Kazakhstan, more than $20 million to the people of Peru, and millions more to the people of Nicaragua, South Korea, and Taiwan.

That recovery has only been possible because of cooperation with our foreign law enforcement partners.

You may be familiar with some of these cases.  For example, nearly half of the $3.5 billion in corruption proceeds we have restrained is related to just one enforcement action.

That action was related to a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund known as 1MDB.  1MDB was created by the Malaysian government to promote long-term economic development for the benefit of the Malaysian people.

But allegedly corrupt officials and their associates reportedly used the funds for a lavish spending spree: $200 million for real estate in Southern California and New York.  $130 million in artwork.  $100 million in an American music label.  Not to mention a $265 million yacht.

In total, 1MDB officials allegedly laundered more than $4.5 billion in funds through a complex web of opaque transactions and fraudulent shell companies with bank accounts in countries ranging from Switzerland and Singapore to Luxembourg and the United States.  This is kleptocracy at its worst.

Today, the U.S. Department of Justice is working to provide justice to the victims of this alleged scheme.

As a prosecutor for 14 years, I know firsthand that the best evidence is often simple things like bank records, airplane records, and telephone records.

If they’re not properly shared between nations, then, in many cases, justice cannot be done.  It is essential that we continue to improve that kind of sharing.

That’s why we must all do more to expedite mutual legal assistance requests.  These requests ensure that prosecutors have the evidence that they need to bring criminals to justice.

In response to the increasing volume and complexity of legal assistance requests, the Department of Justice has taken two actions that are critically important.

First, we have increased staffing levels at the Department’s Office of International Affairs, or OIA.  Second, OIA has created two new units dedicated to reviewing and executing foreign requests.  As a result, OIA has significantly reduced its backlog by thousands of cases, despite receiving 16 percent more requests in fiscal 2016 than in fiscal 2015.

These are important steps.  But we can and must do more to help one another.

I challenge all of you to devote more resources to quickly and effectively reducing your backlog too.  You know how serious these cases can be.  There is no time to waste.  We will do our part for you, but we need to work together.

The Department is also working towards the implementation of a framework with some of our closest allies that would supplement the MLAT process and reduce potential conflicts of law regarding the disclosure of electronic evidence.  That kind of framework would enhance public safety efforts in the U.S. and around the world.

In order for this type of framework to function, however, we need to ensure that our warrants continue to be effective even when an American company chooses to store customer data outside of the United States.

When we have access to the right evidence, we get results.

Earlier this year, we worked with foreign authorities to arrest the alleged creator of the Kelihos botnet. Over several years, this network was used to steal login credentials, distribute hundreds of millions of spam e-mails, and install ransomware and other malicious software across the globe.

That pernicious network of tens of thousands of infected computers has now been dismantled.

This summer, with the help of eight of our allies, we dismantled the largest darknet market, AlphaBay.  It operated for more than two years and was used to sell a host of illicit items, including deadly illegal drugs and firearms.

At one time, more than 40,000 vendors offered contraband for sale, and drugs sold on the site have been linked to overdose deaths around the country.  Now this site has been taken down.

The Justice Department has also indicted foreign cyber criminals who have broken into systems in the United States looking to steal ideas that make our nation strong and competitive in the global marketplace.  One of the cases we are prosecuting involved the theft of technology that allegedly caused $800 million in losses.  That is more than ten times the largest bank robbery.

Intellectual property theft is so important today that G-20 leaders have agreed that no country should steal trade secrets or other confidential business information in order to advantage its companies or commercial sectors.  The Department of Justice is committed to bringing those responsible for intellectual property-related crimes to justice.

The United States has too often been a victim, and we intend to fight these crimes vigorously.

All of us need to do a better job of properly evaluating extradition requests, and it is unacceptable for nations to flatly refuse to extradite individuals who have committed crimes in another country.  The United States seeks to participate in economic activity worldwide.

We believe we have a strong record of fairly and professionally prosecuting global criminal activity and we will work hard to assist our global partners in their efforts to crack down on fraud and abuse.  But we will insist on cooperation from our global partners.

Many of the countries in this room have honored our extradition requests, allowing fugitives to undergo the judicial process in the United States.  I want to thank you for that. We are also working with you and plan to do so faster and more effectively in the future.

Cooperation works—and at the Department of Justice, we know that firsthand.

Thank you all for your ongoing efforts against crime. We fully respect the importance of borders. Indeed, borders are an essential component of sovereignty, but if we work together- respectful of each other’s rights- we can far more effectively stop transnational criminals.

And we must do so.  I look forward to our work together—and to many more successes in the future.

Topic(s): 
Cyber Crime
Foreign Corruption
Updated December 4, 2017