Thursday, April 2, 2009

MEXICO CITY (AP) - Mexico’s Senate on Thursday unanimously approved legislation that would allow the government to seize property from suspected drug traffickers and other criminals before they are convicted.

Under existing laws, suspects must first be convicted before their property can be seized and trials often last years in Mexico. The new law allows prosecutors to ask a judge for a seizure order before the end of the trial.

The law covers property bought with income from, or used in connection with, organized crime, drug trafficking, kidnapping, human trafficking or vehicle theft. No compensation would be paid for any property seized.

The bill has been the subject of months of heated debate, with supporters of the law accusing opponents of being soft on drug trafficking. Opponents argue the law leaves property owners _ even those who had rented land or houses in good faith _ with few means to defend themselves in seizure cases.

But the law was finally passed with added provisions to protect the rights of landlords or property owners not involved in organized crime.

The bill now goes to the lower house.

Proceeds from seized property would be used to compensate crime victims and to recover government costs.

“The aim is to create a legal framework so that Mexican government … can combat crime by reducing the financial resources that make it power and feed its impunity,” the Senate said in a statement.

About 1,600 people died in drug-related violence in Mexico in the first three months of 2009, in addition to 6,290 in 2008. Top U.S. and Mexican officials met south of Mexico City on Thursday to plan cooperative efforts to stem the violence.

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