Colombia Lawyer's, Cops Learn To Team Up

Colombia Lawyer's, Cops Learn To Team Up
Posted by FoM on January 02, 2000 at 16:38:26 PT
By Juanita Darling, Los Angeles Times 
Source: San Jose Mercury News 
BOGOTÁ, Colombia -- By eavesdropping on wiretapped telephones, police investigators uncovered a full-service drug ring.Gang members were trucking cocaine into the capital and loading it onto public transportation for the ride to the airport, where cooperative airline cleaning crews were sending it to the United States. Proceeds were laundered through wire transfers at foreign-exchange houses.
Police turned the findings over to prosecutors, who ordered further investigation to determine who was driving the trucks, sneaking the drugs onto planes and cashing the checks.The problem, says a veteran prosecutor, is that the government lawyers forgot to prove these actions added up to a conspiracy to sell illegal drugs and reap the profits, which would constitute a major offense.``We have to get people to focus on the crime,'' the prosecutor said.An error like that could have ruined months of police work. In this case, it did not.Week of Training:Instead of making the mistake in court, the prosecutors goofed in a training exercise during a weeklong course in December designed to help them work better with police. The course is part of two little-known programs that accounted for only a fraction of $289 million in U.S. anti-narcotics aid to Colombia in 1999, but which U.S. and Colombian authorities say are as effective as several Black Hawk helicopters in the fight against drugs.During the past four years, the programs -- one for prosecutors, another for police -- have trained 16 regional narcotics investigation units. They also are helping develop special units to combat money laundering, corruption, human rights abuses and drug smuggling on the high seas. This year, Colombia's three national police agencies will begin using a unified anti-narcotics curriculum that the programs developed.For security reasons, officials who talked about the programs did not want their names published. However, several Colombians who have participated were enthusiastic about the results.``This is the first time we've done everything right,'' a naval officer gushed, commenting on a joint U.S. Coast Guard and Colombian navy operation in late November, shortly after a training session. ``We got the drugs, we got the traffickers, and we got the evidence that the prosecutors need to convict.''As a result of the November session attended by five Colombian prosecutors -- part of the unit that specializes in maritime drug-trafficking cases -- the U.S. Coast Guard changed its own checklist to make sure it provided evidence that the Colombians need to make a case.Building a Case:So law enforcement agencies were ready when the Colombians stopped a suspicious boat off their Caribbean coast. The captain had a map showing a route to Haiti with three clearly marked drop-off points. Coast Guard units investigated those spots and recovered packets of cocaine in each one.The trial of the alleged traffickers arrested in November is still pending, but the naval officer said he planned to write a monograph on the operation as a textbook case of cooperation.Cooperation has been one of the programs' most important achievements, said a Colombian law enforcement official.``We have been able to break down the rivalries among police agencies,'' the law enforcement official said, ``and help prosecutors understand what the different agencies do.'' Published Sunday, January 2, 2000in the San Jose Mercury News © 1999-2000 Mercury Center Related Articles:Column: A School That Should Be Closed - 11/09/00 Worry Colombia Could Become Another Vietnam - 8/06/99
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