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Network of Organized Crime Prosecutors: REFCO

The Network of Prosecutors against Organized Crime (REFCO according to its acronym in Spanish), founded in March 2011 through an initiative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and with the financial support of the Canadian Government, provides a platform for cooperation for 10 Prosecutor' Offices specialized in organized crime from Belize, Costa Rica, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Panama.

The Network aims to strengthen the investigation and prosecution of organized crime through support to these specialized units of the Prosecutor's Offices in Central America and the Dominican Republic by working with prosecutors at the national and regional level.

Organized crime has a transnational component which goes beyond borders and therefore requires a coordinated and strategic response. It is not enough that a State individually arbitrates legal dispositions or specializes their investigators and prosecutors, it is necessary to also establish links of communication and trust amongst people working in the regions organized crime, drug trafficking, trafficking in people or money laundering units.

The network, therefore, attaches crucial importance to mutual trust and partnership between prosecutors in Central America and the Dominican Republic. Only through direct contact, creating a safe space, is it possible to exchange information and work together against organized crime. However, it is not possible to work as a network if at the national level gaps are identified in areas in which there could be greater efficiency. Hence, while there is a need for coordinated, regional operations, not only in research but also in initiatives that aim to strengthen regional communication, it is also essential to support the national structures of each Prosecutor's Office.

Thus, the network has a strong commitment at two levels: at the national level, to provide support and technical assistance to each prosecutor's office, according to the identified needs and priorities, so as to strengthen the structures of the Organized Crime Prosecution, reaching a greater degree of specialization and efficiency. At the same time, regionally, REFCO promotes communication and trust between public prosecutors, providing a platform where they can share the difficulties encountered in the investigations, the research methodology of the various phenomena associated with organized crime that present challenges, or court rulings at the jurisprudential level.

The network responds to the needs of each prosecutor's office and has the express support of the Central American Council of Public Prosecutors, the organ that at its meeting of 12-13 October 2011 identified REFCO as a "tool used by the Council to implement any regional initiative within its Action Plan, aimed at combating organized crime in all its manifestations (drug trafficking, money laundering, extortion) ".

After the first year and a half working of REFCO, we can summarize its efforts as follows:

  • Ten Organized Crime Prosecutors are now members of the Network;
  • Two additional Prosecutor's Offices, Bolivia and Peru, have participated in the Network's activities.
  • The Network's website has been operational since May 2012.
  • Three plenary meetings (March and November 2011 and May 2012) have been held, with the presence of all the Chief Prosecutors of the respective Organized Crime Prosecution's Offices.
  • Eight regional workshops with the participation of over 350 prosecutors:

1. Trafficking for the purpose of illegal adoption, May 16 in Nicaragua.
2. Racketeer, 26 and 27 June in Nicaragua.
3. Maras (Gangs), 7-11 November in El Salvador.
4. Extortion, 5 - 9 March 2012 and 23 - 27 April 2012 in El Salvador.
5. Money laundering, 26 - 28 March, 2012 in Panama.
6. Organized crime, 16 - 17 May 2012 in the Dominican Republic.
7. Theft and Robbery of vehicles, 3 and 4 July, 2012 in Guatemala.
8. Research Methodology in Organized Crime cases, 3 and 4 September 2012 in Colombia.

  • Four national workshops:

1. Wiretaps, 21 and 23 March, 2012 in El Salvador.
2. Organized crime, 16 - 20 April 2012 in Guatemala.
3. Wiretaps, 11- 13 June 2012 in El Salvador.
4. Extortion, 30 July - 3 August, 2012 in Honduras.

  • Eight bulletins with opinion articles from prosecutors and information on the activities of the Network's Public Prosecutors members in respect of the prosecution of organized crime.
  • Participation in international forums to discuss initiatives and recommendations for the investigation and prosecution of organized crime:

1. Eurojust, cooperation with third States in the fight against drug trafficking, October, 2011 in Krakow, Poland.
2. AIAMP, best practices in the investigation of drug trafficking and money laundering , July 2011 in Montevideo, Uruguay.
3. AIMP plenary meeting, December 2011 in Brasilia, Brazil.
4. Regional workshop on transnational cooperation in preventing and combating terrorism and its financing, March 2012, Cartagena de Indias, Colombia.
5. Technical Consultation to develop the Hemispheric Scheme against Transnational Organized Crime, June 2012, Antigua, Guatemala.

  • Provision of support to National Prosecutor's Offices:

1. Support to the Panamanian Prosecutor's Office in the implementation of the Accusatory Penal system.
2. Support to the Prosecution of El Salvador in the implementation of the wiretapping law.
3. Advisory missions to El Salvador and Honduras.
4. Support to the Prosecutor's Office of Honduras, in conjunction with the Prosecutor's Office of El Salvador, in the creation of the Anti-Extortion Unit.