U.S. Appellate Court Upholds Forfeiture of Narcotics? Trafficking Assets Abroad

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Sunday, September 1, 2002
Bruce Zagaris
On July 12, 2002, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmed an order to forfeit $4.6 million on deposit at the Banco Espanol de Credito in Madrid, Spain belonging to Juan Ramon Matta, the leader and organizer of a crime ring that smuggled large amounts of cocaine into the U.S. in the 1980s. Even though the $4.6 million is outside the U.S., the District Court determined it had ?constructive possession? of the bank accounts because the record showed ?a degree of cooperation? that a forfeiture order from the court would likely be enforced by the Spanish Government. The appellate court observed that both parties conceded that the money at Banco Espanol was earned through illegal narcotics activity and, if a U.S. court can order its forfeiture, that the money must be forfeited. The U.S. court creatively stretched the asset forfeiture law to find a ?constructive possession? of the property.