Billions in Seized Criminal Assets Could Go to Colombia’s Victims

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Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos has requested that almost $3 billion in seized criminal assets be given to victims of the armed conflict, although the corrupt management of such funds in the past raises doubts about his plans.

President Santos recently told Attorney General Jorge Perdomo that the money his institution seizes from criminal groups should be directed to the national Victim’s Unit, El Espectador reported.

The quantity of seized assets has increased exponentially in recent years, according to figures obtained by El Espectador. Between 2015 and 2016, the value of assets seized by the Attorney General’s Office reached a record $2.89 billion (8.6 trillion Colombian pesos) — 17 times the 2014 figure, when seizures amounted to $168 million (500 billion Colombian pesos).

Behind this increased efficiency is the implementation of the 2014 Property Seizure Law (pdf) and new policies for prioritizing cases established by the attorney general, according to a report by the Attorney General’s Office’s Property Seizure Unit that was accessed by El Espectador.

These measures resulted in the number of cases assigned to the unit falling 75 percent, from 1,077 in 2012 to 267 in 2015. The length of proceedings should also be significantly reduced — while the process used to last seven years or more, authorities now believe they will take no longer than a year.

In March 2015, the Attorney General’s Office adopted a policy focused on attacking the finances of guerrilla group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC), the Urabeños and Oficina de Envigado criminal organizations, human trafficking networks and corrupt politicians.

InSight Crime Analysis

The President’s Office is currently frantically searching for funds for Colombia’s eight million victims as a peace deal with the country’s largest guerrilla group, the FARC, draws near, according to El Espectador. The FARC have already suggested that they do not have enough money to put towards victim reparation, despite authorities seizing assets worth millions of dollars that allegedly belonged to the rebel group.

Whether or not seized properties will prove a reliable source of funds for victims depends heavily on their administration after they are expropriated by the Attorney General’s Office, and there are reasons to be skeptical about the process. In 2014, the Colombian government was forced to dismantle the National Narcotics Directorate (Dirección Nacional de Estupefacientes – DNE), which managed assets seized from drug traffickers, after an estimated $1 billion was lost to corruption within the entity.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of FARC Peace

Corruption has also affected past government attempts to funnel funds from expropriated assets to armed conflict victims. Such was the case following a peace process with Colombia’s paramilitary umbrella organization the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia – AUC) in the mid-2000s. The management of seized assets was plagued by irregularities, with properties falling back into the hands of underworld figures with ties to former paramilitary commanders, according to investigations by Verdad Abierta.

Turning criminal assets into usable funds also represents a strong logistical challenge, given that finding buyers for the assets has been an obstacle for authorities in the past.

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