Colombia has seized over $440 million in the first two months of 2015 as part of an aggressive program to confiscate criminal assets, putting the country on track for another year of record high seizures.
Between January 1 and February 23 this year, Colombian authorities confiscated 145 assets valued at more than $442 million dollars, reported El Tiempo. If seizures continue at the current pace, Colombia will surpass the record $1.4 billion in assets seized in 2014.
Examples of recent seizures include a more than 700-hectare plot of land in Cartagena connected to the Norte del Valle Cartel (NDVC), worth around $4 million dollars, and a luxury home that belonged to Eugenio Montoya Sanchez, the brother of former NDVC faction leader Diego Montoya Sanchez, alias "Don Diego."
Drug traffickers aren't the only ones affected by the seizures. Colombian authorities have also targeted assets belonging to an extortion gang in Medellin, former government officials, and a "meat cartel" that allegedly smuggled 4,000 cattle across the border from Venezuela.
The effort to prioritize seizures has also led to the creation of a special intelligence unit in the Attorney General's Office dedicated to tracing assets from guerrilla groups the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN).
InSight Crime Analysis
The increase in confiscated assets may be the result of changes to Colombia's property seizure law, which were approved in January 2014. Last September, former Vice Prosecutor General Wilson Martinez told InSight Crime the new rules could enable authorities to cut the time it takes to complete a seizure in half. The legal changes also allow authorities to more easily take assets from suspected criminals who have not yet been convicted.
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Still, previous failures have tarnished the reputation of a law once touted by former President Alvaro Uribe as one of the country's "most-feared" anti-narcotics tools. After a scandal in which billions of dollars in seized assets went missing, the National Narcotics Directorate (DNE) -- the agency responsible for managing confiscated assets -- was officially dissolved last year and replaced by the Special Assets Association (SAE).
In addition, in spite of record high seizures in 2014, Colombian authorities still only seizes a fraction of the country's criminal assets. Previous estimates indicate that Colombia confiscates 3 percent or less of yearly criminal earnings. The government has also failed to collect close to $3.4 billion in outstanding fines leveled against drug traffickers, guerrilla groups, and paramilitaries.