Exporting Corruption, DOJ Looks for Lucrative Overseas Partnerships

Last month, the US Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa, announced that the Department of Justice was conducting a workshop to teach South African law enforcement the practice of civil forfeiture:

The United States Department of Justice (USDOJ), in partnership with the South African National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), is conducting an asset forfeiture workshop for members of the South African Police Service Directorate of Priority Crimes Investigations Asset Forfeiture Division. The workshop is on-going at the U.S. Consulate in Johannesburg, South Africa from June 24 - 27, 2014.

The four day instructor-led training workshop is sponsored by the United States Secret Service and structured to impart the best asset forfeiture practices that are currently being employed in the United States to disrupt criminal enterprises constructed through unlawful activity. It is estimated that over one billion dollars in assets are seized by the USDOJ yearly.

During the workshop, 55 SAPS and 10 NPA participants will learn to conduct an in-depth investigation and apply financial techniques and strategies to expand the scope of a criminal investigation through identifying and tracking assets for seizure and for forfeiture. The USDOJ Asset Forfeiture Program encompasses the seizure and forfeiture of assets that represent the proceeds of, or were used to facilitate federal crimes. The primary mission of the program is to employ asset forfeiture powers in a manner that enhances public safety and security. This is accomplished by removing the proceeds of crime and other assets relied upon by criminals and their associates to perpetuate their criminal activity against our societies. Asset forfeiture has the power to disrupt or dismantle criminal organizations that would otherwise continue to function if we only convicted and incarcerated specific individuals. Further, asset forfeiture programs are strengthened when nations effectively partner to disrupt transnational syndicates who commit crimes outside the borders of local law enforcement jurisdictions.

This is problematic for a number of reasons. First, civil forfeiture is a legal system associated with systemic civil rights abuses; exporting it to a Third World nation without a strong rule of law tradition is an open invitation to tyrants and despots. Second, civil forfeiture is anti-democratic, and allows law enforcement agencies in the executive branch to attain some degree of independence from civilian or democratic oversight. Third, foreign partnerships in law enforcement investigations allow the DOJ the ability to use worldwide NSA dragnet surveillance to find and acquire targets for asset forfeiture, particularly under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

The efforts of the DOJ to develop what is essentially an infinite revenue source through international civil asset forfeiture should be viewed with great skepticism by Congress, and should compel America's elected legislative leadership to reassert their fundamental "power of the purse" by ending the practice of allowing law enforcement to directly retain forfeiture proceeds.

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