US unhappy with Jamaica's prosecution of financial crimes

State Department also wants stronger measures to deal with corruption, drug trafficking

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

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THE United States has asked the Jamaican Government to take steps to build the capacity of its law enforcement, prosecution, and courts in order to successfully prosecute financial crime cases.

This is one of the recommendations set out in the just-released 2018 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report by the United States Department of State Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. The annual report details the efforts of key countries to tackle all aspects of the international drug trade in 2017.

The recommendations made in the second volume of the report, which focuses on money laundering states: “It (the Government of Jamaica), should review and modify its case-processing procedures to enhance its ability to prosecute financial crimes efficiently and effectively.”

The report further asserts that the Jamaican Government should make a concerted effort to identify money laundering-related activities, and prosecute political and public corruption, and ensure that designated non-financial businesses and professions' financial institutions are fully compliant with the law.

At the same time, the US State Department said Jamaica remains the largest source country in the region for marijuana and is a significant transit point for cocaine trafficked from South America to North America and other international markets.

“Money laundering in Jamaica is primarily related to proceeds from illegal narcotics and weapons, trafficking, financial fraud schemes, corruption, and extortion. It is largely perpetrated by organised criminal groups,” the report continued.

At the same time, it noted that the Financial Investigations Division (FID) has used the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) to seize properties and other assets believed to be derived from criminal activities.

However, it said that Jamaica has enforced the POCA with only moderate success, as the law is still not being implemented to its fullest potential due to difficulties prosecuting financial crime and achieving convictions in these cases.

It said lengthy case prosecution delays hinder the effectiveness of the judicial system so that courts and prosecutors have been unable to keep pace with financial crimes.

“Inefficient legal practice methods combined with corruption and a lack of accountability exacerbate an already overburdened justice system. Rather than pursuing money laundering as a stand-alone offence — which requires proof of the underlying unlawful activity, often a difficult task — Jamaican law enforcement and prosecutors tend to pursue predicate offences to money laundering, which carry less serious consequences. Likewise, in plea bargains, the POCA offences are sometimes dropped. The POCA is a powerful tool to counter money laundering; however, it is not achieving the desired or intended results,” the report stated.

It was also pointed out that the country continues to experience a large number of financial crimes related to lottery scams, cybercrime, bulk cash smuggling, and trade-based fraud, with a large number of such financial crimes targeting US citizens.

“The activities are largely perpetrated by the dozens of violent, organised criminal groups on the island,” said the report, which detailed the efforts of key countries to tackle all aspects of the international drug trade in 2017.

On the issue of drugs, the report said: “Jamaica's geographic position in the western Caribbean and its difficult-to-patrol coastline, high volume of tourist travel, and status as a major containerised cargo trans-shipment hub contribute to its use for drug trafficking via commercial shipping, small watercraft, air freight, human couriers, and private aircraft,” the report noted.

It said that while the United States and Jamaican Governments continue to successfully utilise bilateral legal assistance and extradition treaties, as well as agreements on maritime law enforcement cooperation and sharing forfeited assets, progress is being made towards an agreement to formalise information sharing between customs agencies.

Washington said, however, that Kingston's drug control efforts face significant challenges from corruption, organised crime, gang activity, resource constraints, and an inefficient criminal justice system.

Both countries are bilateral parties to both a mutual legal assistance treaty and an extradition treaty and they also have a strong extradition and mutual assistance relationship. Both treaties were successfully used in 2018.

The United States and Jamaica also utilised a reciprocal agreement to share forfeited criminal assets and a bilateral agreement on law enforcement cooperation on maritime interdiction of illicit traffickers, including boarding of suspicious vessels and embarkation of law enforcement officials on the other country's ships.

Last year, the two countries made “some progress toward finalising a bilateral customs mutual assistance agreement (CMAA) that will provide a legal framework for the exchange of trade information between the agencies of the two countries “which in the long term will assist in targeting the flow of drugs, guns, and other contraband through US and Jamaican ports of entry.

“The CMAA is still under review by the Jamaican Government and is not expected to be signed and in effect until 2019. The Jamaican Government ended in 2018 an existing non-binding memorandum of understanding previously used to share intercept information, on the basis that it did not meet the legal framework required under the Jamaican Constitution.”

Washington said that while the absence of a formal agreement to share intercept information has hampered its investigations in some areas, the two countries are “currently in negotiations to find a way forward to reaching a mutually agreeable mechanism to restore this long-standing area of cooperation between both governments”.

The report noted, too, that Jamaica's efforts to bring traffickers to justice are hobbled by an under-resourced, overburdened judicial system and that repeated delays and trial postponements contribute to significant case backlogs; frustration among police, witnesses, jurors, and the public; and impunity for many offenders.

“In response, the Jamaican Government passed a plea bargain reform bill in 2017, drafted with US support and designed to incentivise plea bargaining to increase the courts' efficiency and reduce the backlog of criminal cases.”

– Additional reporting by the CMC


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