Authorities in Nicaragua have continued to defend their occupation of assets seized in drug trafficking investigations, illustrating the extent to which state institutions rely on trafficking-related seizures as a source of leverage and funding.
Police and judicial officials in Nicaragua have established a pattern of permanently seizing the assets of citizens accused of crimes, reported La Prensa. The assets, including property, are often turned over to police or other officials who allegedly loot possessions or even occupy the properties with their families, as in one case in the city of Bluefields.
Government officials have evaded questions about the lack of oversight of asset seizures, with Attorney General Hernan Estrada Santamaria physically running away from reporters to avoid discussing the fate of property seized from convicted drug trafficker Henry Fariñas.
One supreme court judge insisted the state seizures were necessary in order to prevent the properties from "deterioration," and claimed they would be regulated by an administrative unit for seized assets. However the unit does not yet exist. It was established under a 2010 anti-crime law and was supposed to take effect as of 2011, but the government has repeatedly delayed its creation.
InSight Crime Analysis
According to an analyst consulted in the La Prensa article, the failure to establish the seized assets unit is a deliberate choice on the part of the Nicaraguan government. Stealing drug trafficking proceeds or capturing assets is a common practice by security forces and other state institutions in Nicaragua, who use them as a source of fundraising and leverage. The Nicaraguan government has even tried to use seized drug trafficking money to fund state projects like a plan to use $9.2 million taken from accused Mexican traffickers to build new prisons -- presented before the suspects were even convicted.
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According to 2006 diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks, the Ortega government has long depended on judges and magistrates loyal to the party to leverage drug trafficking money as a source of campaign finance funds. The cables highlighted cases of high-ranking judicial officials using drug trafficking cases as a means to line their own pockets, including negotiating the release of accused traffickers in exchange for bribes.
In addition to fueling the ongoing debate over seized property, the Fariñas case also implicated an electoral magistrate and high-ranking officers in the police force, illustrating how organized crime has managed to infiltrate up to the highest levels of Nicaraguan state institutions.