HomeNewsBriefGuatemala Asset Seizures a Key Tool, But Implementation Tough
BRIEF

Guatemala Asset Seizures a Key Tool, But Implementation Tough

GUATEMALA / 27 AUG 2014 BY MARGUERITE CAWLEY EN

Asset seizure laws can be an excellent way to attack the economic power base of organized crime groups, but in Guatemala — and other countries in the region — a number of bureaucratic challenges have made implementation difficult.

In the three years Guatemala’s Asset Seizures Court of First Instance has operated, it has handed down about 40 sentences per year, leading to the seizure of around $3.2 million in assets, reported La Hora

According to Asset Seizures judge Marco Antonio Villeda, the 2010 law (pdf) allowing authorities to seize properties bought with illicit funds is an important complement to attempts to prosecute criminal leaders.

However, while the Public Ministry (MP – Guatemala’s Attorney General’s Office) — which directs asset seizure cases — has wide-ranging investigative powers, proving beyond reasonable doubt a property’s origins is a slow and difficult process, Villeda stated. This is particularly true when transnational transactions are involved.

Guatemalan experts say it can take years to complete an asset seizure case. As an example, seven properties belonging to one of Guatemala’s major drug clans, the Lorenzanas, were frozen in 2012, but the MP has yet to request their seizure. 

SEE ALSO: Lorenzanas Profile

Informing the subject in question of an asset seizure hearing can also take a long time if they are being held in prison outside Guatemala, Villeda said.

Finally, there are problems regarding what to do with the properties after they are seized. Many people are skeptical about acquiring a narco-linked property or do not meet the qualifications to do so. The properties also often deteriorate over the course of the lengthy seizure process. 

InSight Crime Analysis

As noted by Villeda, property seizure laws can be a huge boon in helping officials target criminal structures. They can also serve to shed light on the scale and scope of criminal operations.

However, many Latin American countries still lack this legislation, and even for countries that do have seizure laws, they are a relatively new legal tool that has proved difficult to implement. In Mexico, just 29 asset seizure trials took place between the 2009 implementation of the Federal Forfeiture Law and 2013. Honduras passed a similar law in 2010 (pdf), but all asset transfer orders filed since that year were still pending as of last year. Colombia’s property seizure law reaches back to 2002 (pdf), but its effectiveness has been hampered by slow judicial processes

Bureaucratic flaws are just one challenge. Others include the potential misuse of the law to attack political opponents, the deep-seated corruption in many of the region’s judicial systems, and the temptations surrounding these luxury goods. Following one major scandal, Colombia’s National Narcotics Directorate (DNE) — formerly responsible for managing seized properties — is being dissolved after billions of dollars in narco assets “disappeared.” 

Compartir icon icon icon

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America's largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

HONDURAS / 19 JAN 2016

Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernández traveled to Washington DC to officially bring into existence his country's new international anti-impunity body,…

COLOMBIA / 13 APR 2020

Women’s participation in organized crime groups is not uniform. The diverse roles that women play in criminal economies allow us…

GUATEMALA / 23 MAR 2012

Police in Guatemala have arrested a man attempting to leave the country with nearly $50,000 concealed in his stomach, a…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

We Have Updated Our Website

4 FEB 2021

Welcome to our new home page. We have revamped the site to create a better display and reader experience.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Events – Border Crime: The Northern Triangle and Tri-Border Area

ARGENTINA / 25 JAN 2021

Through several rounds of extensive field investigations, our researchers have analyzed and mapped out the main illicit economies and criminal groups present in 39 border departments spread across the six countries of study – the Northern Triangle trio of Guatemala, Honduras, and El…

BRIEF

InSight Crime’s ‘Memo Fantasma’ Investigation Wins Simón Bolívar National Journalism Prize

COLOMBIA / 20 NOV 2020

The staff at InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation into the drug trafficker known as “Memo Fantasma,” which was…

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – From Uncovering Organized Crime to Finding What Works

COLOMBIA / 12 NOV 2020

This project began 10 years ago as an effort to address a problem: the lack of daily coverage, investigative stories and analysis of organized crime in the Americas. …

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – Ten Years of Investigating Organized Crime in the Americas

FEATURED / 2 NOV 2020

In early 2009, Steven Dudley was in Medellín, Colombia. His assignment: speak to a jailed paramilitary leader in the Itagui prison, just south of the city. Following his interview inside…