This CBS News article about Colombia’s massively corrupt forfeiture program is instructive:
But 20 years after the DNE was established, billions of dollars in drug assets that the government planned to use to benefit crime victims and law enforcement have simply disappeared, officials say. The agency itself has been so hampered by misappropriation, mismanagement and maddening legal challenges that President Juan Manuel Santos has decided to scrap it.
Interior Minister German Vargas said a decree dissolving the agency would come soon. That will leave the Finance Ministry with the task of sorting through a list of 95,000 assets to determine what remains, and how much has been plundered and by whom, says the DNE’s final director, Juan Carlos Restrepo, whom Santos appointed in October shortly after taking office.
“Supposedly we should have a large amount of jewels, all the Rolex (watches) encrusted with diamonds,” Restrepo said, sighing. “But I’ll tell you, if ranches have been robbed, why wouldn’t a Rolex be pilfered?”
The list of assets includes a $140,000 Ferrari, multimillion-dollar homes, a hotel, small planes, jet skis and paintings by famed Colombian artists.
What is certain, Restrepo and others at DNE say, is that billions of dollars worth of assets have disappeared. Prosecutors will try to determine who took what, and then the Finance Ministry will sell off the remaining assets at auction. The proceeds are supposed to be used to pay reparations to victims of Colombia’s long-running internal conflicts, including those forced from their homes and relatives of the more than 50,000 slain.
The total value of the seized assets is unknown, as is the location of numerous properties of drug traffickers. Many have been registered in the names of third parties to confound law enforcement. Some properties have been sacked. Others have fallen into disuse, their value deteriorating.
The DNE “is a place where the worst of the nation is in confluence,” Restrepo said. “Corruption and gangsters are there.”
The 46-year-old lawyer said that just a few days after his arrival, after a preliminary look at reams of documents, he realized he had come upon “the mother camp, the starship, of corruption.”
Granted, Colombia is an extremely corrupt country when compared to the United States, but the same incentives are at work. The difference between forfeiture corruption in the United States is one of degree, not of kind, and by continuing such corrupting practices as civil asset forfeiture, we encourage our government to become more like that of Colombia. As Restrepo concludes at the end of the article: ”The task of administering the assets of gangsters is one you couldn’t even expect the Vatican to be able to do.”