|For Immediate Release
October 6, 2011
Contact: Kim Smith Hicks, 202-225-3951
Statement of Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith
Full Committee Markup of
H.R. 313, The Drug Trafficking Safe Harbor Elimination Act of 2011
Chairman Smith: H.R. 313, the Drug Trafficking Safe Harbor Elimination Act of 2011, which I introduced with Congressman Schiff, closes a loophole in federal law.
It also clarifies Congress’ intent that the drug trafficking conspiracy statute be given extraterritorial application. Drug traffickers are currently allowed to conspire with impunity in the United States and evade criminal prosecution when their goal is to traffic drugs outside of the United States.
A federal criminal case demonstrates how the loophole is being exploited. In 1998, two individuals conspired with members of a large Colombian drug trafficking organization and a Saudi Arabian prince.
The goal of the conspiracy was to traffic 2,000 kilograms of cocaine, worth over $100 million, from South America to Europe. Several meetings among the co-conspirators occurred in Miami, Florida, and elsewhere around the world. Specifically, while in Miami, they planned in detail to purchase the cocaine in Colombia and ship it to Europe for distribution.
Ultimately, the prince used his royal jet under the cover of diplomatic immunity to transport the cocaine from Venezuela to Paris, France. Although part of the cocaine was seized by law enforcement authorities in France and Spain, about 1,000 kilograms of cocaine were distributed and sold in the Netherlands, Italy and elsewhere in Europe.
In 2005, two of the conspirators were convicted of drug trafficking and conspiracy in federal district court in Florida and each sentenced to about 24 years in prison. However, in 2007 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit vacated their convictions.
The court reasoned that there is no violation of federal law when, absent Congressional intent to the contrary, the object of the conspiracy is to possess and distribute controlled substances outside of the United States even though meetings and negotiations in furtherance of the crime occurred on U.S. soil.
Crime is usually territorial. It is a matter of law enforcement specific to the place where the crime occurs. However, drug trafficking is inherently global in nature, now more than ever. In fact, two other provisions of the Controlled Substances Act are explicitly extraterritorial as they relate to narco-terrorism and the foreign manufacture of drugs for importation into the United States.
In addition, the primary anti-money laundering statute used in drug trafficking cases is extraterritorial. The federal Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act was enacted in response to the increasing use of vessels, submersibles and semi-submersibles to traffic drugs around the world.
In passing that law, Congress stated “that trafficking in controlled substances aboard vessels is a serious international problem and is universally condemned. Moreover, such trafficking presents a specific threat to the security and societal well-being of the United States.”
Hundreds of federal laws are expressly extraterritorial. Extradition treaties among countries around the world are often used to effectuate the extraterritorial laws of nations. The United States is a signatory to international drug control treaties.
This bill tells drug traffickers not to plot their illegal activities in the U.S., and if they do, they will be brought to justice. The United States should not provide a safe haven for the world's drug traffickers to plot their international trafficking operations.