According to a study by Mexico’s lower house of Congress, the authorities are failing to seize assets linked to organized crime, despite a recent law intended to streamline the process.
The study found that between 2010 and 2011, only three cases involving the seizure of assets resulted in a ruling favorable to the government. Last year the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) initiated 10 cases involving the seizure of property or other goods linked to organized crime, but so far 2012 hasn’t seen any new cases.
By contrast, Guatemala and Colombia between them saw 2,700 cases processed during a one-year period, according to the report. This is despite the fact that Guatemala only passed an asset seizure law in 2010, while Mexico approved a similar law in 2008.
Last year Colombia’s attorney general seized a total of 3.4 billion pesos (about $242 million) in assets linked to crime. According to Mexico’s congressional study, there are no reliable numbers out yet about the monetary value of assets seized in Mexico in recent years.
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Prior to 2008, Mexico’s law only allowed the government to seize goods if they compensated the owner first. A modification to the constitution in 2008 was supposed to make it easier to confiscate goods linked to organized crime.
But as the congressional study points out, there are still some legal technicalities preventing the courts from pushing through asset seizure cases. In Mexico, goods can only be seized if the defendants are charged with certain offenses: organized crime, drug-related crimes, kidnapping, vehicle theft, and human trafficking. In Colombia, however, 25 different crimes are defined as sufficient justification for seizing the defendant’s assets, while 40 are listed in Guatemala.
The seizure of land, houses, cars, and other goods from criminals should be one of Mexico’s most important legal tools in the fight against crime. But, judging by the study, it appears that the 2008 asset seizure law is too narrow to be effective.
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