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Brendan O’Connor MP Speaks at 7th Annual International Association of Prosecutors Asia Pacific & Middle East Regional Conference

Jakarta, Indonesia,  (News4us.com) March 17, 2011

Transcript of the Minister of Home Affairs and justice, Brendan O’Connor at the 7th Annual International Association of Prosecutors, Asia Pacific and Middle East Regional Conference.

It is a great pleasure to be here at the International Association of Prosecutors, Asia Pacific and Middle East Regional Conference.

The importance of a strong and fair judicial system cannot be underestimated.
Prosecutors play an integral role in the efficacy of the judicial system and in ensuring that justice is done.

I commend the International Association of Prosecutors for convening regional conferences such as this one, as they provide an opportunity for open dialogue between partner countries about combating crime in our region.

 

Transnational Crime

The nature of crime is changing.

Globalisation is marked by increased flows of people, information and capital across borders. Globalisation, together with advances in technology, has contributed to a rise in transnational crime, such as drug trafficking, people trafficking, people smuggling and money laundering.

Criminals no longer recognise state or national borders. And so our collective response to crime must therefore also overcome our borders.

Technological developments and the ease of movement across international borders have also made it much more common for evidence relating to a crime, or the proceeds of a crime, to be located in a different jurisdiction from where the crime was committed.

As crime is now more routinely transnational in nature, in turn, so too are criminal investigations.

This also means that a coordinated response is required across countries to ensure effective investigation and prosecution of transnational crime, and to ‘follow the money’ between jurisdictions.

In order to be able to investigate, prosecute and combat crime, and, importantly, to deprive criminals of their illicit earnings, we need to collaborate.

In short, we need to take the profit out of crime.

 

Following the Money

Money is the lifeblood of organised crime.

In Australia it is estimated that serious and organised crime costs the community $15 billion a year.

Whether it is the proceeds from drug trafficking, people trafficking or other crimes, criminal organisations benefit financially from their illegal activities. And it is this greed which drives them.

Strong money laundering and proceeds of crime laws can be an effective disincentive to criminal activity for three critical reasons.

Being able to restrain assets and confiscate proceeds of crime makes the business of transnational crime less appealing for criminal syndicates. In Australia in the last financial year we confiscated assets totalling $34.87 million.

Taking this profit away from the criminals reduces the potential for re-investment in criminal activity.

And just as importantly, confiscating the proceeds of crime allows Governments to re-direct the confiscated funds into crime prevention programs.

This provides a beautiful symmetry: we use the funds taken from criminal syndicates to support and target those people most susceptible to becoming involved in crime in the first place, and to address the consequences of their crime.

 

Proceeds of Crime

In Australia, we recently introduced new asset forfeiture provisions that target the ‘unexplained wealth’ of criminals.

This means that a person must prove that the money was lawfully obtained.  If they cannot demonstrate this, a court may order that the person forfeit that money.
The prosecution does not have to prove that an offence has actually been committed.

These provisions target high level organised crime figures who make large profits from their crimes, but distance themselves from the actual commission of offences.
The new provisions also include a number of safeguards so they operate fairly.

I also recently announced the launch of an Asset Confiscation Taskforce, involving police and prosecutors with specialised skills in tracing and seizing the proceeds of crime.

This Taskforce represents a new and exciting era in criminal asset confiscation in Australia and demonstrates the high priority that the Australian Government affords to combating transnational crime.

 

Anti-Money Laundering Frameworks

A robust anti-money laundering legal framework also allows authorities to ‘follow the money’.

Australia’s anti-money laundering system requires financial institutions (like Banks) to report all suspicious financial transactions and avoidance of financial reporting requirements.
These reports can trigger investigation and prosecution.

This financial information allows authorities to detect, seize and confiscate proceeds of crime and, importantly, it may be used to link senior organisers to criminal activity where possible.

A key benefit of effective proceeds of crime and anti-money laundering laws is that it provides a two-pronged approach for our law enforcement agencies.
Parallel investigations can be undertaken into the source of the money as well as the principal or underlying crime.

 

International Co-operation

While the action we take domestically to improve our legal frameworks and systems is crucial, we also need strong systems in place in order to work together at an international level to combat transnational crime.

Tracing the proceeds of crime can be a complex and challenging task.

Money derived from crime is increasingly moved between countries, and criminals are using ever more sophisticated methods to conceal the origins of their money or the true ownership of their assets.

In order to deal with this evolving criminal methodology, it is important to ensure that attempts by criminals to disguise the money trail does not prevent authorities from pursuing and confiscating that money, or prosecuting the criminals for their offences.

It is easy to imagine a scenario in which drugs – or some other commodity – is shipped through multiple countries in our region with payments similarly made in multiple countries; to the producers of the drugs, to those involved in the illicit shipment, and to the ultimate purchaser. And all of these crimes – both the trafficking of the drugs and the proceeds from the crime – cross national borders.

Such a scenario requires us to have robust international cooperation regimes.

This should, as a minimum, extend to three core areas.

Firstly, it is desirable that information sharing is possible between each country’s financial intelligence units to detect the money flows for a transnational crime across jurisdictions.
This could include information sharing through the Egmont Group, Interpol or on a direct police to police basis, such as through the Australian Federal Police liaison network.
Secondly, it is desirable to have a robust mutual assistance regime that allows a country to respond to foreign government requests for assistance in money laundering investigations or proceeds of crime action.
For example, such assistance should desirably extend to the registration of a foreign proceeds of crime order and the taking of action to confiscate the relevant assets and provide them to the requesting country.

Thirdly, we need to have a strong extradition framework to ensure that criminals cannot evade justice by fleeing jurisdictions.

Ultimately, strong international crime cooperation mechanisms are needed to ensure that attempts by criminals to disguise the money trail relating to their crimes offshore do not prevent authorities from pursuing and confiscating those assets.

 

Australia’s Response

In Australia, we are currently reviewing our mutual assistance and extradition laws to ensure that they are responsive to new transnational crimes and sufficiently equip law enforcement and prosecution agencies with the right tools to effectively investigate and prosecute crimes with an international dimension.

The Australian Government has also developed an Organised Crime Strategic Framework, which recognises the significant problem of transnational crime in the modern age. As such it focuses on enhancing relationships between Australian agencies and our regional partners.

 

Recent Successes

The Australian approach of ‘following the money’ is working.

Just last month, the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Crime Commission dismantled a highly lucrative money laundering and tax evasion operation.

Australian law enforcement authorities seized $800 000 in cash and another $200 000 has been frozen in bank accounts.  This operation was sparked by financial information gathered by AUSTRAC, Australia’s financial intelligence organisation.

Two people have been arrested and charged with dealing in the proceeds of crime worth $1 million, and are currently facing prosecution and confiscation action.

This is but one of many cases which demonstrate the tangible results of a targeted and co-operative approach to fighting organised crime.

 

Conclusion

As we continue the fight against transnational crime, we must remain vigilant to its changing face.

We must be prepared to adapt to changing technologies, and to continue to think of innovative ways to combat crime and to trace the proceeds of crime across borders.

We must be prepared to work collaboratively, as partners in the fight against crime.

As prosecutors, and as defenders of law and justice, your role in combating crime could not be of more importance.

I wish you well for the remainder of your conference, and thank you for the opportunity to address you all today.


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