Tue | Jul 23, 2024

Horace Chang | MOCA’s critical role in security apparatus

Published:Sunday | June 9, 2024 | 12:11 AM
In this 2018 photo, investigators from the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency and the Financial Investigation Division search a vehicle by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security at Heroes Circle.
In this 2018 photo, investigators from the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency and the Financial Investigation Division search a vehicle by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security at Heroes Circle.
Dr Horace Chang
Dr Horace Chang
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I noted the Gleaner editorial published on Sunday, May 19, 2024, titled: ‘Whatever happened to MOCA?’ and would like to contribute to the discourse by outlining certain facts regarding the agency’s mandate, some of its key achievements to date, as well as its critical importance to our overall security apparatus.

MANDATE

MOCA plays a pivotal role in Jamaica’s security architecture. In April 2021, the agency became a fully independent law-enforcement entity. This move saw the members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), who were previously assigned to the Agency, formalising their full transition into the Agency, as well as the onboarding of some young, bright individuals from our universities and the private sector. This has been critical in enhancing MOCA’s capabilities and overall effectiveness.

The agency is a small, elite group endowed with prosecutorial powers, as well as the authority to search and arrest. It is the lead agency in matters relating to cyber and digital forensic investigations, particularly advance-fee fraud and ransomware activities. Additionally, it plays a critical role in tracking narcotics and firearm trafficking syndicates, tackling public sector corruption, and combating money laundering in collaboration with the Financial Investigations Division . Crucially, MOCA also monitors emerging and future threats to our national security, such as the criminal use of artificial intelligence and virtual assets, including cryptocurrency, as the country remains vigilant and prepared in an ever-changing and dynamic security environment.

STRATEGIC PARTNERS

MOCA’s independence and specialised focus allows it to conduct a wide range of strategic and operational activities in pursuit of its national security priorities and mandate. The Agency undertakes complex and sensitive investigations, often dealing with sophisticated criminal networks. In addition to these intricate investigations, MOCA conducts numerous operations in support of both local law enforcement entities and international partners. Locally, the Agency supports key entities such as the Tax Administration Jamaica, Revenue Protection Division, Financial Investigation Division, Jamaica Constabulary Force, and Jamaica Defence Force.

Internationally, MOCA collaborates effectively with law-enforcement counterparts from our major security partners – the “ABC” countries. These partnerships and collaboration have yielded considerable success in various areas related to its mandate, highlighting the importance of a coordinated and collaborative approach to tackling organised crime and corruption.

Given the concerns about diminished visibility, it is crucial to understand that investigating major organised crime and high-level corruption requires patience, resilience and sound judgment. These cases are some of the most protracted, complex, and challenging to investigate. They often involve the extraction and collation of vast amounts of financial and digital evidence which must accord to legislative and procedural requirements for admissibility.

In the context of well-resourced subjects (of investigations), premature public disclosures can easily compromise these sensitive investigations, as well as inflict irreparable reputational damage due to as yet, unproven allegations. Therefore, MOCA’s less public-facing approach is both a strategic and prudent measure to maintain the integrity of its operations. Ultimately, the public values results over rhetoric.

INVESTIGATIONS AND PROSECUTIONS

At present, MOCA has 49 cases before the courts, involving 90 accused persons, with another 35 matters under investigations. These include offences under the Cybercrimes Act, the Law Reform (Fraudulent Transactions) (Special Provisions) Act, the Larceny Act and the Forgery Act. Over the years, MOCA’s investigations into high-level corruption cases demonstrate a commitment to hold individuals accountable, regardless of their status. This unwavering stance on corruption is essential in fostering a culture of transparency and accountability within the public sector, as corruption undermines public trust and hampers economic development.

Currently, the agency has a number of major public sector corruption cases, under investigation and before the Courts. These include the J$200 million fraud matter at the Institute of Sports (INSPORTS), which involved the arrest and charge of six individuals in April 2023, as well as the J$8 million fraud matter at the HEART/NSTA Trust, which resulted in five individuals pleading guilty to various offences in September 2023. MOCA is also the lead agency in one aspect of the wider Petrojam investigation, which is still before the Courts.

INTERNATIONAL CYBER INVESTIGATION

MOCA’s efforts in combating cybercrime are particularly noteworthy. With the rapid evolution of technology, cyber threats have become increasingly sophisticated and pervasive. MOCA has positioned itself at the forefront of this battle, utilising advanced digital forensic techniques to uncover and help to dismantle cybercriminal networks, as well as to bolster the nation’s cyber security resilience. In August 2023, two cyber criminals from a West African country were arrested, following an international cyber investigation by MOCA, in collaboration with US and other law enforcement counterparts. The two men were involved in a cyber-attack on a Jamaican entity, defrauding it of over US$1 million. The investigation, ultimately led to the freezing and recovery of a significant portion of the stolen funds, with further international cooperation still ongoing.

TRANSNATIONAL ORGANISED CRIME AND MONEY LAUNDERING

The agency’s ability to track and disrupt transnational organised groups and help to deprive them of the criminal proceeds that they have amassed, is crucial in tackling broader criminal activities and violence in the country. By targeting the key operatives of these networks, MOCA contributes significantly to national and regional security. No case accentuates more, the complex and protracted nature of these investigations, than the 2012 case relating to the laundering of criminal proceeds by a narcotics trafficker, which was facilitated by a prominent attorney-at-law. The case involved concurrent criminal and civil recovery proceedings by MOCA and FID, with significant litigation and jurisprudence on the validity of POCA warrants and legal professional privilege (involving an attorney) in the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, as recent as June 2022.

In July 2022, MOCA in conjunction with the FID recorded a major victory in the Supreme Court, when the Court ruled that over J$500 million in cash and assets amassed through criminal proceeds by the convicted narcotics trafficker be forfeited to the Government of Jamaica. Additionally, in November 2023, the Court of Appeal affirmed a forfeiture order by which five properties with an estimated value of $500 million were forfeited to the Crown. These rulings by the Courts collectively represent the most significant assets forfeiture, in terms of dollar value, ever recorded in Jamaica. A total of 16 properties have already been forfeited from the principal subject in the case and further forfeiture proceedings are anticipated.

MOCA has also been involved in the successful disruption of a transnational narco-trafficking organised crime group (OCG), which in June 2023, resulted in the arrest and charge of a Jamaican national and a number of his facilitators, as well as the seizure of 15 kilos of cocaine. Throughout this investigation, there has been a collective seizure of approximately 100 kilos of cocaine trans-shipped through Jamaica into the UK and Europe.

The Agency, together with the FID, leads the Jamaican Operations Linked to Telemarketing (JOLT) initiative. This strategic response is a collaborative partnership between local and foreign law enforcement entities targeting lottery scamming syndicates and operators. From 2018 to date, 20 individuals have been extradited to the US, numerous prosecutions have been instituted and disruption activities are ongoing.

MOCA’s critical role in our security apparatus cannot be overstated. Its independence, specialised focus, and strategic collaborations make it an indispensable asset in the fight against transnational organised crime and corruption. While its work may not always be visible to the public, the impact of MOCA’s operations is profound and far-reaching. The Agency’s dedication and commitment to safeguarding national security deserves recognition and public support. It is imperative that we acknowledge and appreciate the vital contributions of MOCA in making Jamaica a safer and more secure society.

Dr Horace Chang is Jamaica’s deputy prime minister and minister of national security. He is also the member of parliament for North West St James. Send feedback to securityminister@mns.gov.jm