by Tito Drago
(IPS) MADRID --
European Union (EU) member countries tolerate tax havens which "constitute the most fertile breeding ground for organized economic crime," Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon charged May 18.
Garzon, internationally renowned for his attempt to extradite former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet from Britain and try him for human rights abuses in Spain, spoke at the prestigious Club Siglo XXI in Madrid on how to ensure that security, freedom and justice prevail in the EU.
Focusing on "the phenomena of organized transnational crime, terrorism and illegal immigration," he suggested ways of fighting these trends in Europe, such as measures to replace extradition processes with instruments entailing the immediate handover of individuals wanted on arrest warrants.
Just as the jurisdiction to try a crime independently of where it was committed or the nationality of the suspect is "perfectly defensible, countries should be able to hand over an individual wanted on an arrest warrant, without restrictions," argued Garzon.
"Europe has become the target destination for thousands of people from the east and south seeking the possibility of a better life and, in effect, a means of subsistence, a goal that in their own countries is becoming increasingly difficult," he said.
Garzon, who is currently investigating cases involving drug trafficking, terrorism and Spain's 1980s "dirty war" against the Basque separatist group ETA, "the existence in the EU of territories lacking fiscal transparency or of lower fiscal risk is unacceptable when these become causes for failure to cooperate in the judicial arena, with respect to fiscal offenses and in other areas."
The laundering of proceeds from the drug trade, corruption, prostitution, and trafficking in undocumented immigrants are realities reflected on a daily basis in the press, and which are widely commented on, although few cases ever lead to convictions.
In Garzon's view, "money laundering constitutes the ultimate motive, and is thus the central nerve of organized crime." The EU, due to its location, legal framework and economic prosperity, is a "perfect playing field" for bands of criminals, he maintained.
However, the headquarters of organized crime are located elsewhere, in areas where there is less pressure from the police and the courts, and thus greater maneuvering room for criminal activity.
For that reason, said Garzon, measures must be adopted by all countries and coordinated under a future U.N. Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime.
Another aspect that Garzon believes essential is the establishment of new regulations on electronic surveillance techniques, because existing laws "make it impossible to use such means in investigations on organized crime and terrorism."
He proposed laws allowing for sentence reductions or immunity from prosecution in exchange for names and vital information from those who "repent" for their crimes and confess; greater regulation of the activities of undercover agents, as well as their possible influence in inducing crimes; and effective protection and economic assistance for undercover agents as well as witnesses and experts who collaborate with the justice system.
With respect to his proposal to do away with tax havens, Garzon said the first step would be the elimination of all restrictions on international legal cooperation, "with respect to criminals directly accused, as well as their front men or front companies."
Legal assistance between countries should be based on the legislation of the country making the request, and not that of the country receiving the request, as occurred in the Pinochet affair in 1998 and 1999, when Britain stood in the way of the extradition of the elderly former Chilean dictator to Spain.
Garzon is facing the same problem today with respect to former de facto rulers of Argentina who he has charged in connection with human rights violations committed during the 1976-83 dictatorship in that country.
According to Garzon, communication between judges in different countries should be direct, "without interference by political authorities" -- a principle recognized by the Schengen Treaty, which regulates security issues in the EU, he pointed out.
But he also stressed the need for the incorporation of new technologies in order for legal proceedings "to take place directly -- with temporary transfers of those testifying, expert witnesses or the accused -- or through conference systems, video conferences, Internet or by satellite."
In any case, he insisted, inquiries should be carried out by the authority putting forth the request, to avoid "the present absurd situation" in which that authority "is merely an uninvited guest crashing the party," because the formal requisites "have become an insuperable barrier to cooperation."
In Garzon's view, "terrorism is an organized criminal activity which takes different shapes and forms in Spain, but has a common ideological basis, when we are talking about ETA."
For that reason, he said, investigations of the illegal Basque separatist organization "should encompass not only its violent activity -- including attacks carried out in the streets, a fundamental part of the terrorist strategy -- but also financial, business or economic activity and the political structures of which they make use."
He also stressed that "terrorism is inconsistent with any kind of political demand, as the European Union understands it," and thus what is needed is an international convention providing "a uniform definition and norms for cracking down on the phenomenon."
who periodically issues extradition requests, described extradition procedures as controversial and obsolete, and said that at times they served as "an excuse for ineffective cooperation, or for barring cooperation completely.
"The way I understand it, if crimes have not respected national frontiers or have been committed against humanity, no question of sovereignty is involved because no state was hurt, but only victims who need protection through enforcement of the law," he argued.
Once criminal proceedings have begun, they should and must only end through a judicial decision, said Garzon, who asked why, if that is the case within individual countries, "should it be different when a greater number of people are affected, in the case of a cross-border crime?"
In the Pinochet affair, the question of extradition was not satisfactorily resolved, he said, because the political decision "was taken 'behind the back' of the most advanced norms laid out by the statute for the (future) International Criminal Court."
Thus, "a historic opportunity for updating and modernizing extradition processes, as a step towards their disappearance, was lost."
Garzon concluded that efforts must be made to solve such problems now, so that the solutions do not arrive too late.
The statute for the creation of an International Criminal Court to try crimes against humanity like genocide and war crimes was approved in July 1998 at an international conference organized by the United Nations in Rome.
In order for it to go into effect, the treaty must be ratified by at least 60 states. However, only eight of the 95 signatory states have done so thus far.
May 22, 2000 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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