With the objective of strengthening cooperation among governments to counter transnational crime and terrorism, the Department of Justice’s Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training (OPDAT), Office of International Affairs and Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section of the Criminal Division and the Department’s National Security Division, along with experts from Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and the United States with experience in countering terrorism, terrorist financing, and transnational crime met for the first time as a Regional Security Mechanism (RSM) in Asunción, Paraguay on Nov. 12 and 13.
On July 19, during Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo’s visit to Buenos Aires for a counterterrorism ministerial meeting, Argentina, the United States, Brazil and Paraguay agreed to establish the RSM to bolster cooperation among these governments to counter transnational crime and terrorism. Transnational criminal groups, terrorists and those who support them continue to engage in a wide range of illicit schemes in the region. The RSM focuses on identifying vulnerabilities that these groups are exploiting and on developing solutions to address these threats. The RSM held its first meeting at the expert level this week.
The experts shared information to deepen each country’s understanding of the risks of terrorists and organized criminal groups and those who support them pose to the region; identify vulnerabilities that these groups are exploiting; and develop recommendations to mitigate these risks and increase regional cooperation to combat these groups.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Paraguay hosted this two-day meeting and led the delegation of the Government of Paraguay composed of investigators, prosecutors, financial analysts and customs officials.
This initiative is part of the continuous effort of the U.S. Embassy of Paraguay in promoting cooperation to increase local and regional institutional and inter-institutional capacity, provide staff training and technical assistance, as well as better information exchange between participating countries.
OPDAT has been in the Tri Border Area (TBA) of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina since 2015, posting a money laundering/terrorism financing-focused Intermittent Advisor to Paraguay and a computer hacking and intellectual property adviser to Brazil. In 2017, OPDAT added a resident advisor in Buenos Aires dedicated to counterterrorism issues in the TBA. In 2018, OPDAT expanded to add a resident legal advisor in Asunción focused on counterterrorism issues. In 2020, OPDAT will add a counterterrorism focused intermittent advisor in Brazil.
The advisor in Buenos Aires has promoted legal and regulatory reforms, provided case-based mentoring and capacity building, and encouraged greater regional cooperation. Over the past two years, after receiving OPDAT training and mentoring on these topics, Argentine authorities are increasingly using undercover officers, informal sources of information, cooperating defendants, and interagency task forces to advance investigations involving complex crimes and criminal organizations. In July, Argentina – also with OPDAT support – developed and deployed a domestic terrorist designation regime, which included Hizballah and its top leaders as designated terrorists.
In August, Paraguay announced its own terrorist designations. These designations, also developed with OPDAT support, declared Hamas, Hizballah, ISIS, and Al Q’aida to be terrorist organizations. The designations, which were passed with technical assistance from OPDAT are currently awaiting the President’s signature, will serve as the basis for freezing assets linked to designated terrorist organizations or any entity linked to terrorism or its financing. In addition to work on terrorist designations and asset freezes, the Paraguay program coordinates and conducts training to counter terrorist financing; provides case-based mentoring to build capacity to investigate, prosecute, and adjudicate such cases; and continues to work with Paraguayans to form a financial crimes/terrorism financing task force.
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