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Investigations regarding Crime in Latin America: Operation Chameleon

Reports from the Legal Assistance Programme for Latin America and the Caribbean (LAPLAC) of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), after the simulated trials for money laundering, showed the need to provide technical support to enforcement officers all throughout Latin America.

According to Deicy López, an attorney from the LAPLAC the program has reported over three hundred people involved in criminal activities in the region. Of those three hundred, two hundred have been brought on charges, and 70 of them have been sentenced. In two of the most noted cases, Lopez said, Santacruz Londoño and Helmer Pacho Herrera cases, the LAPLAC reports 300 properties confiscated to Londoño and 1205 property assets confiscated from Pacho Herrera.

Currently, there are several cases of repossession pending to those involved in money laundering. This has been possible thanks to the development of an investigation plan requiring constant communication between the members of the task force, which in turn, allowed for a better presentation of the case for each trial.

What is an Investigation Plan?

“Investigation plans are a working tool designed for Prosecutors and investigators, to help them execute and evaluate criminal investigations following pre-determined guidelines,” Lopez explained. According to her having an investigation plan assures transparency, efficiency, accountability, efficacy, team work and optimization of the use of the resources. LAPLAC has promoted the application of the investigation plan in several Latin American countries, and has developed application manuals in Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela.

Legislative dynamics and the continuous advances in the administration of justice, demand a change in the thinking process of institutions and organizations. It also –Lopez continued, implies a challenge as far as the investigative work and the fight against crime. “One must have a well-defined concept of investigative planning, and must establish an investigation plan which will help to achieve objectives, and prepare those involved mentally so they can do things orderly and efficiently, making the best use of the human and logistic resources available, ” Lopez said.

Planning, she added, is basic to any management or directive position. It determines the objectives that the work group must achieve. An effective plan must include the evaluation of the resources at hand, their purpose and what needs to be done. This allows analyzing the crime and obtaining useful and pertinent information.

To this propose, it is necessary to meet regularly to ensure management control. Operation Chameleon One of the most relevant cases in which the U.N. has been involved in Colombia, is the “Operation Chameleon” which ultimately achieved the repossession (or “extinction of domain”, as it is known in Colombia,) of 80 million pesos found in a safe in a property that was under investigation. The money’s origin was unknown and inexplicable, which prompted the District Attorney’s Office to open a case, forming a task force with the Judicial Police (operating under the National Police’s authority) or DIJIN. Other members of the task force included investigators and forensic officers from the Technical and Judicial Investigations Office of the Attorney General and the Bank Superintendence.

The case was prompted by a process of extinction of domain that had been opened against the renowned drug dealer from the Cali cartel Helmer Pacho Herrera. In his apartment, occupied by Bernardo Martines Romero, authorities found 80 million pesos in a safe. After the money was seized, authorities determined that the Martines Romero was a friend of the drug dealer. The tenant did not pay rent and owned two companies Servicheque and Rapicheque which provided a service to cash checks. A few days after the seizure, Martines was assassinated along with two other accomplices. The wife of one of the accomplices testified before the District Attorney that the money and the companies belong to Pacho Herrera. It is important to note, Lopez pointed out, that Operation Chameleon resulted in the recollection of material elements of proof that the task force required.

The operation successfully identified 200 bank accounts belonging to particular and judicial persons, who where linked to the crime, through operations of fractioning of the money, smurfing, and investments with the purpose of disguising the illegal source of the funds. “Follow the money, and you will always catch the criminal” Lopez concluded.

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