Attorney-General Schram announces new approach: “Hurt criminals in their wallet”

POSTED: 11/30/14 10:51 PM

WILLEMSTAD – The Public Prosecutor’s Office in Curacao wants to intensify efforts to tackle financial criminality, to confiscate criminal assets and to invest in the youth. Attorney-General Guus Schram announced these initiatives yesterday in a speech at the conference Kòrsou di ta basta awor in Willemstad. Schram did not say whether his office would promote this new approach in St. Maarten as well.

Schram described the developments that have led to the current crime-crisis in Curacao and noted: “There is only one conclusion possible, it is past five to twelve, but still I am not dejected. I am convinced that a successful approach is possible on the condition that action is undertaken by a united and organized government.”

Schram said that the constitutional reform that reached its conclusion on 10-10-10 has created “a cumbersome and complicated reality.” Insiders hardly comprehend the constitutional jigsaw puzzle, “let alone that outsiders will understand it.” The AG said that this new reality makes working difficult at times.

“The thought on 10-10-10 was that the job was completed. Civil servants involved in the process went on to do something else and the enormous pressure to cut costs in the Netherlands definitely took the air out of the process. Therefore, 10-10-10 became the end, while it should have been the point of departure.”

Schram noted that the countries in the Kingdom went their own way and that the concept of working together became emotionally charged. “We did not become an autonomous country in the Kingdom, so we hear, to become burdened with a cooperation we experience as imposed. The Netherlands also went its own way. The political interest for the other side became lukewarm and when it is there, the tone is often cynical.”

These developments had an effect on the maintenance of law and order. “We certainly did not benefit from all this and on certain aspects the maintenance of law and order was seriously endangered. It has also hampered the cooperation in the field of crime fighting and made it more bureaucratic.”

Schram expressed serious concerns about the rising crime in Curacao. “It makes me sick. Let us not forget why we are here. We are doing this to create a better society with less criminality. Up to now, the citizens are the victims. They are being robbed, raped and murdered in Dushi Curacao.”

When Schram arrived in Curacao a year ago, he heard “that we are living in a South-American culture and that criminality with a lot of violence and many victims is part of it. I have always had trouble with that argument, if only because it lulls you to sleep and because criminality gets an almost picturesque and romantic aura. There is no reason whatsoever for that. What does a victim of a violent robbery buy for a statement that we live in a South-American culture? Nothing.”

The attorney-general said that criminality in Curacao is high and that organized crime is a serious threat to the local community. “This form of criminality is not always very visible, but it does have visible consequences for citizens. Degeneration in the streets, drugs, extortion and other forms of criminality are the result of this. Unfortunately, they often affect social-economically weaker districts and citizens.”

Schram said that he is happy with the trend that Curacao says more often enough is enough – ta basta awor. An effective fight against criminality requires intense cooperation within and outside of the Kingdom, cooperation between investigating agencies and the Public Prosecutor’s Office and agencies that are adequately equipped for their task – within and outside of criminal law. In this respect, Schram mentioned the police force, the National Detective Agency, the Detective Cooperation Team RST and his own organization. Furthermore, there is a need for judges specialized in criminal law and with experience in tackling organized crime, and effective execution of punishments and measures.

Schram then unfolded his strategy for the long term, “one that is broader that the classic approach to criminality.” Within this approach, cooperation between crime fighting organizations and government organization that receive indications about criminal behavior is central. “It could also be private parties or social organizations that consciously or unconsciously facilitate criminal behavior,” Schram said.

The bottom line is that the prosecutor’s office wants to shift its focus. “We should not act after a crime has been committed, but we should anticipate crime. A different timing. We should not focus on one specific case but on the network of parties that facilitate crime.”

The strategy is different too, Schram pointed out. “It is not about collecting signals to build a case, but about analyzing signals and underlying patterns to understand and to prevent crimes.” Furthermore, the prosecutor’s office won’t aim for performance and production with its new strategy, but it will consider the effect of its work on the community first.

Effectively dealing with financial crimes requires “a robustly equipped prosecutor’s office and police with sufficient manpower, expertise and knowledge about the latest developments in financial criminality.” Cooperation with the Financial Intelligence Unit (MOT) also fits within this approach.

Taking away criminal gains is a second element that will get more attention. “In several countries, comprehensively seizing criminal assets has shown to be an important and successful method. Curacao does not apply this comprehensively yet, though several departments are busy with it.”

Schram launched an idea to boost this initiative: “Why don’t we establish a confiscation-team consisting of participants of different organizations? Such a team would take on promising cases that do not take a lot of time. The strength of such a team is that it operates fast, decisive and well-considered and that it immediately confiscates criminally obtained assets. No long investigations that take a lot of capacity, but hurting criminals where it hurts most – in their wallet.”

Schram said that data from abroad show that for every dollar a country invests in such a team yields 3.5 dollars in criminal asserts. “That is a business-case wherein the government cannot lose.”

Schram’s biggest concern is the youth. “If we really want to combat crime we should not only focus on repression but also on prevention. We’ll have to make efforts in fighting poverty, invest in impoverished districts, improve education and offer the youth a perspective on work.”

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