U.S. crime fighters lay down rules of engagement

  • 2001-01-18
  • Jorgen Johansson
RIGA - In an attempt to improve Baltic efforts against organized crime, the U.S. Department of Justice organized a three-day seminar from Jan. 10 to 12 for Latvian and Estonian prosecutors, policemen and lawmakers.

U. S. Ambassador to Latvia James Holmes spoke of the importance to cooperate in fighting organized crime, which he considers to be a global problem.

According to Holmes, many crimes in Latvia have adopted a familiar pattern.

A crime is planned by a criminal group based somewhere abroad while the financing comes from a third country. Having committed their crime, the criminals leave for a fourth state to cover their tracks.

Countries must therefore cooperate in fighting organized crime, Holmes concluded.

The participants at the seminar expressed satisfaction over the outcome and hope for the future, but whether or not legislation in the Baltic countries can live up to fighting organized crime is a question that remains unanswered.

"During the course of the seminar, we've learnt that we could use more amendments to the legislation when it comes to fighting organized crime," said MP Dzintars Kudums, chairman of the defense and internal affairs committee. "We are considering new tools to combat organized crime. We know of people walking around who we can't touch. We even know their names and surnames."

Supervisory special agent Ricky D. Hill of the Federal Bureau of Investigation was also among the participants. He was present, he said, mainly to share some of his experience in investigative work. But he declined to say precisely what Baltic crime fighters could learn from the FBI.

The U.S. assistant attorney and deputy chief of the Northern district of Illinois' organized crime section, Mark Vogel, said that organized crime has evolved to meet current trends.

"Today, money that is stolen, or otherwise illegally obtained, is laundered through banks in the United States," Vogel said. "This was not the case 10 years ago, and it is very difficult to track."

Vogel added that older forms of crime have found a new home in Central and Eastern Europe.

"Billions of dollars are laundered through the United States from Eastern Europe and then back again," Vogel said. "We're seeing a returning trend to the days of Al Capone with trading in tobacco, alcohol and females. We've had many cases with young women from Eastern Europe ending up working in brothels."