Barbados and its Caribbean counterparts are on the way to establishing an Asset Recovery Interagency Network for the region.
Prosecutors, policymakers, and law enforcement officers will be engaged in discussion over the next two days at the Caribbean Regional Meeting of Asset Recovery Practitioners at the Radisson Aquatica Resort.
Speaking during the opening ceremony, Chief Justice, Sir Marston Gibson, said the region was at a cross roads. “One road leads to losing all that we have gained to transnational crime which can easily come to our shores on a flight, a fishing trip or a Caribbean cruise.
“The next road…is the road we are about to take today towards establishing a regional initiative towards collaring what is referred to as unexplained wealth,” he said.
Noting that the idea of collaring or making criminals disgorge unexplained wealth was not new, Sir Marston said Barbados was making significant strides in the area, with the laying of the Criminal Finances Bill in Parliament and the first and second readings being conducted on October 15 and 25 respectively.
However, he cautioned that the road ahead would not be an easy one. “You are going to meet naysayers; you will meet objectors, but we must not be distracted from what we are setting out to do. It is important that we remove from criminals the incentive to continue criminal activity. It is important to remove the incentive from younger West Indians that crime pays,” Sir Marston asserted.
However, the Chief Justice said that while criminal asset forfeiture had its strong points, it also had as a weakness the fact that there was no one to testify against the “kingpins”.
As a result, he stressed that there was a need to seriously consider gathering evidence to be used in court for the purpose of showing that the gains being collared were obtained through ill-gotten means.
Warning courts generally did not like to move in that direction, Sir Marston stressed that civil asset forfeiture was the only way to get to the bottom of the crime problem throughout the Caribbean.
Director of Public Prosecutions, Charles Leacock, also noted that Barbados would be moving soon to implement its Civil Forfeiture Legislation now in draft, thereby allowing lawmakers to go after the proceeds of crime even in cases where there was no conviction.
“All over the world, the disgorgement of the proceeds of crime has had some limited success. It provides a great incentive to government, those in law enforcement and in prosecution, to deprive criminals of their ill-gotten proceeds, so that money can be put into use by other socially beneficial and acceptable projects,” he said.
However, Mr. Leacock called for a changing of the mindset of law enforcement officials, whom he said were “extremely good” at investigating crimes such as murder, robbery and fraud, but were “not so good” at running parallel investigations to go after the money.
“That is how you address the crime problem in a country; you go after the money,” he stated. He explained that sending criminals to prison may be considered as part of the price for doing business, but stripping them of illegally obtained money addressed the crime problem.
“There is no incentive to keep offending,” Mr. Leacock reasoned.