The Mexican Senate is looking at ways to improve the nation's ability to seize assets from organized criminal groups, as the justice system has proved largely unable to do so.
At a recent hearing, the Senate discussed allowing other government agencies besides Mexico's Attorney General's Office (PGR, by its Spanish initials) to pursue asset forfeiture cases. Under current legislation, only the PGR is allowed to handle such cases.
In the last six years, the PGR has filed 64 asset forfeiture cases involving organized crime, according to Excelsior. Courts ruled 43 of those cases in the PGR's favor, 11 against the PGR, and dismissed two, Federal Crimes Assistant Attorney Jose Guadalupe Medina told the Senate.
This is significantly lower than neighboring nations such as Guatemala, which has successfully pursued an average of 40 asset forfeiture cases per year since implementing a new asset seizure law.
Medina blamed low figures on Mexico's "poorly designed" asset seizure law, which was introduced in 2009 as part of a wider package of judicial reforms. Elements of the law aimed at protecting citizens' property rights are inadvertently shielding criminals from having their assets seized, he said.
Medina's suggestions to the Senate included rebalancing the law to make it easier for the PGR to pursue such cases, and expanding the category of crimes to which asset forfeitures can be applied.
InSight Crime Analysis
Effectively identifying and seizing criminal assets can be a powerful tool against organized crime. Not only is it a way the state can secure additional financial resources, in some nations seized assets are also used to compensate victims of organized crime. And at a more basic level, seizing the assets of wealthy criminals may prevent them from using their wealth to obstruct justice.
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However, asset forfeiture laws are not without controversy. In the United States, there has been widespread reports of police abusing their power when it comes to civil forfeiture cases.
Given the level of corruption within Mexico's police force, it would be unwise to grant them the power to seize assets from those suspected of involvement in a crime, before they have been charged or convicted. The challenge facing Mexico's lawmakers will be rejigging the asset seizure law to grant the PGR the additional resources needed, so that it can be applied more efficiently. But investing such power in Mexico's other law enforcement institutions could do more harm than good.