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Brazzil - Crime - May 2004

US Wants a Sharper Eye on Brazil's Border

A report by the US State Department informs that Brazil is
cooperating with the American anti-terrorist campaign. It says,
however, that this cooperation is limited by the lack of funds. The
document also assures that the terror threat is low on the triple
frontier where Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay share borders.

Milena Galdino


Picture Agents from the US Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and diplomats and tax and customs officials from Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and the United States are meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina, beginning May 18, to try to discover ways to monitor the illegal transfer of funds to other countries.

This activity is classified as one of the forms of money-laundering—a term that covers all attempts to give a legitimate appearance to illicitly obtained gains.

At the last meeting of the Mechanism 3+1 group (a reference to the Triple Frontier, plus the United States), the four countries involved recognized that the border regions—ports, airports, and land borders—because they are areas with a large volume of exchange operations, deserve a more watchful control by the countries' financial authorities over the flow of goods, people, and funds.

From the perspective of the four countries, illegal transfers of money could be related to narcotraffic, money-laundering, and, especially, the financing of terrorism.

A report issued by the US State Department on April 30 informs that Brazil is cooperating with the anti-terrorist campaign, but it emphasizes that this cooperation is limited by the scarcity of funds to combat crime.

Even so, the document assures that the terrorist threat is low on the triple frontier and excludes the region from the areas of "fundamental concern" when it comes to terrorism, despite non-confirmed reports that the Al Qaeda network is present in these border sites.

During a recent debate on defense, Ambassador Luiz Felipe de Macedo Soares, general undersecretary for South America in the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Relations, said that he considers it unlikely that Al Qaeda has cells on Brazil's southern borders. "There is no evidence that proves that terrorists are present in or financed from that region," he claimed.

In his view, this hypothesis is based on the presence of communities of Arab descendants in southern Brazil. "This suspicion is rejected by Brazil, because it disregards the multiethnic and multicultural reality of the countries on this continent," the Ambassador contends.

Brazilian Participation

In the discussion of money-laundering and the war on related crimes, Brazil is a model in the control of transfers. "Nowadays the entire national financial system is monitoring, and banks are required to inform about dubious transfers," explains Antenor Madruga, director of the Department for the Recovery of Illegal Assets and International Judicial Cooperation in the Brazilian Ministry of Justice.

Even with good supervision of what enters and leaves checking and investment accounts, he indicates that the area of judicial investigation and conviction could stand improvement. Therefore, he is betting on the efficacy of the National Qualification and Training Program to Prevent and Combat Money-Laundering, a project that brings together 25 government bodies to deal with this issue and has already produced various seminars since it was created last December.

Madruga explains that financing terrorism is just one of the government's concerns involving money-laundering. "In truth, no country is immune to the financing of terror, but we are also very concerned with crimes that involve corruption," he explains.

According to him, the fact that the Mercosur countries make it easier for people and goods to flow between them facilitates the crime of money-laundering. On the other hand, Madruga indicates the possibility of judicial instruments that can improve the investigations and convictions.

Switzerland Agreement

Earlier this month, Brazil and Switzerland signed an agreement to combat money laundering. Under the agreement, it will be possible to recover money deposited in Swiss bank accounts by people involved in corruption and fraud in Brazil. The agreement is the first on juridical cooperation between Switzerland and a South American nation.

According to minister of Justice, Márcio Thomaz Bastos, it will now be possible to simplify procedures involving criminal investigations into organized crime activities and, especially, money laundering. "The agreement means less red tape. We will be working together, exchanging information with Swiss authorities," said the minister, adding that international cooperation is of fundamental importance in dealing with international criminal activities.

At the moment, Brazil has juridical cooperation agreements with the United States, Colombia, France, Italy, Peru, Portugal and South Korea, besides Mercosur member nations.

Triple Frontier Terror

Last year, the executive secretary of the Organization of American States' (OAS) Interamerican Anti-Terrorist Committee, Steven Monblatt, ruled out the possibility of the presence of terrorist groups acting in the Triple Frontier region between Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay.

"I am not able to establish the presence of (terrorist) cells in the sense in which this term is used. Even the State Department was unable to detect the presence of any cell," he told the press after a visit to the Itaipu Binational Dam, last October, in the company of the Brazilian general director of the hydroelectric plant, Jorge Samek, and the cartoonist Ziraldo Alves Pinto.

Monblatt added that he doesn't anticipate yet the risk of terrorist acts occurring in the Triple Frontier region. "When I think of possible terrorists' targets, I don't think of this region," he underlined. "I think that, here in this region, you are more concerned about this (the repercussions) than are people outside here," Monblatt said. "Outside here, these reports have less impact than they do here," he affirmed.

Monblatt previously held the post of sub-secretary of anti-terrorism in the US government, and his statement closed the door on the controversy over presumed accusations that soiled the international image of the Iguaçu Falls.

After the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, there was talk, stimulated by sources linked to American government intelligence agencies, that the Triple Frontier was a nest-egg, for example, of terrorist cells connected to Osama Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda.

Foz do Iguaçu and other cities in the region, which derive most of their income from tourism, have suffered the consequences of this information.

Monblatt said that what is most worrisome nowadays in the Triple Frontier is money remittances abroad. He made a suggestion that the Arab community take certain preventive steps so that donations to charitable and political organizations in their countries of origin not end up, even if indirectly, contributing to terrorist activities.

According to him, "trustful people can end up being used by others for ends that are not very reputable." For Monblatt, "it is important to verify where this money (from donations) is going and how it is being used, because, sometimes, people send money to other countries thinking that they are contributing in good faith on behalf of some good cause, without knowing that they are contributing to terrorism or other illicit activities."

The question of money-laundering is a matter of concern for the international image of the three frontiers, but, according to Monblatt, the Brazilian government is making a big effort to combat this type of crime. Nevertheless, he believes that there is a need to combat this problem through a permanent, joint effort between Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina.

Milena Galdino works for Agência Brasil (AB), the official press agency of the Brazilian government. Comments are welcome at lia@radiobras.gov.br.
Translated from the Portuguese by David Silberstein.

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