Deploying African Liaison magistrates to fight transnational organized crime: Building on the Nigerian experience

Abuja/Dakar, 27 October 2020 - On 14 October, in the margins of the Tenth conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC), UNODC held a virtual side event jointly organized with the Governments of Italy, Nigeria, Spain and The Netherlands.

The side event was attended by more than 50 participants and aimed to present the main results achieved by the Liaison Magistrate initiative.

As part of the PROMIS project, since February 2018, UNODC has been supporting the deployment of African prosecutors to Italy and Spain to foster international judicial cooperation on cases relating to trafficking in persons, smuggling of migrants and other related crimes between the countries of origin and the countries of destination.

The innovative aspects of this initiative - outlined Ms. Cecile Plunet, UNODC Regional Director for West and Central Africa - reside in the fact that for the first time, prosecutors from Sub-Saharan countries are deployed as liaison magistrates to European countries to act as an interface between the national central authorities of the deploying country and the hosting country, in line with Article 18 of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. By maintaining all their prosecution powers and depending from the national central authority of the deploying country, the Liaison Magistrates have initiated/reactivated international judicial cooperation between the deploying country and the host country.”

In addition to the traditional functions which include facilitating the exchange of information and the transmission of Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) requests, the Liaison Magistrates provide legal advice and solicit the prompt follow-up on cases and execution of MLA requests with the relevant authorities in the deploying country.

The basis of this Project was in the concept of the ’liaison magistrate’ in his traditional role. However, we wanted his functions to be enhanced: no longer a mere intermediary between the judicial requirements of the two countries, but a real partner in the investigation”, stressed Mr. Giovanni Russo, Vice Chief Prosecutor of the National Antimafia and Counterterrorism Directorate in Italy, and added: “What we are celebrating today is the third and most advanced level of cooperation: the ‘co-working system’ […] in which the ‘liaison magistrate’ performs the functions of a real investigative link in the host country, working side-by-side with the Italian prosecutors and the judicial police”.

The initiative was also praised by H.E. Ms. Esther Monterrubio Villar, Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Spain to the International Organizations in Vienna:“Criminal justice systems need also to come with effective methods and tools to confront the most complex transnational illicit activities of criminal networks. The deployment of liaison magistrates is one of these effective methods, it facilitates collaboration and coordination among central authorities and fosters trust between jurisdictions allowing for enhanced cooperation in the future”.

Among the panelists of the side event, the two Nigerian LMs deployed to Italy and Spain were also invited to present cases successfully investigated and prosecuted during their deployments.

Since the inception of the initiative, four (04) Liaison Magistrates from Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Eritrea were deployed to Italy (03) and Spain (01). Up to present, the LMs have been involved in forty-five (45) cases, thirty-four (34) MLA requests were sent, and several investigations are ongoing. In December 2019, mutual efforts from Italy and Nigeria led to the arrest of a person convicted in Italy of human trafficking and other related crimes and who had escaped to Nigeria.

Mr. Oliver Stolpe, UNODC Representative to Nigeria, moderated the side event and outlined other key results achieved through the LM initiative, including shortened channels of communication, better understanding of the respective legal, institutional and procedural frameworks and, most importantly, trust built between European and African authorities. Thanks to its innovative elements and the hands-on approach in facilitating international judicial cooperation in accordance with UNTOC and the Protocols thereto, the liaison magistrate initiative is gathering increased interest and is likely to expand both geographically and in its thematic scope, going beyond TIP and SOM to cover all transnational organized crimes under the UNTOC.

In his closing message, H.E. Mr. Aldrik Gierveld, Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of The Netherlands to the International Organizations in Vienna, expressed his satisfaction for the concrete results achieved and announced his Government’s continuing financial support to the PROMIS project..

The Liaison Magistrate initiative - part of the PROMIS Project - is funded by The Netherlands and Italy.

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