Thu | Sep 21, 2017

Editorial | Extradition and a broken justice system

Published:Friday | April 28, 2017 | 4:00 AM

The images splashed across the Jamaican press yesterday were simple yet extraordinarily graphic: eight Jamaicans in handcuffs and leg chains being led by US Marshals to a United States government aircraft for extradition to America to stand trial for fleecing scores of elderly Americans of million dollars.

If, as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, those published by this newspaper repeated and reinforced an old story, of whose harm Jamaicans know only too well, but which we seem incapable of fixing.

The proximate issue is the so-called lottery scam, under which Jamaican fraudsters gain the confidence of mostly old, vulnerable persons, who are convinced of having won lotteries or sweepstakes, but who have to pay taxes or other fees before retrieving their prizes. The victims are often made to pay fees until their resources are exhausted. This scam is estimated to pull in upwards of US$300 million annually.

 

Repatriating wealth

 

Many Jamaicans have, up to now, viewed this variety of fraud and extortion as largely a victimless crime. Those who were defrauded, it is assumed, were people in rich America who were repatriating wealth to supposedly poor, oppressed Jamaican youth. In that sense, it was a balancing of the scales of history in the context of colonialism.

Except that this explanation or justification skirts two important points, apart from the moral one of blinding ourselves to the reality of the real victims. One is of the crime spawned in Jamaica from the lotto scam as perpetrators shoot and kill each other over the sharing of spoils for possession of demographic data about intended victims. The second is how this absence of empathy dulled imagination and, therefore, awareness that it would only be a matter of time before a variant of this scam reaches Jamaica - as has apparently begun to happen with reports of retired people being fleeced of their pension benefits.

Herein lies the greater significance of those images from the Norman Manley International Airport. Essentially, they are metaphors for Jamaica's broken and limping law-enforcement and criminal-justice systems, we are forced to outsource responses to some types of crimes of foreign states and their agencies.

Indeed, Joshua Polacheck, the public affairs counsellor of the US Embassy in Kingston, pointed out that there are as many as 5,000 of these cases being investigated in the USA, of which around 300 will, in short order, have extradition requests. Delroy Chuck, the justice minister, has promised to sign the extradition orders as fast as they come, "once they are in order". No stalling, as was the case with drug runner Christopher Coke in 2009-10.

America's aim, according to Mr Polacheck, is to "ensure that this criminal scourge" affecting US citizens "is taken care of". The perpetrators "will see justice inside the United States".

This newspaper has no problem with that. Or with the fact that sovereign states, by treaty, offer each other assistance in criminal investigations and extradition. The issue, however, is what happens when the victims are not Americans or other foreign nationals, as is the case with the emerging circumstance of Jamaica's National Insurance Scheme pensioners.

The fact is that these are law-enforcement and criminal-justice responsibilities that can't be entirely outsourced. This week's events are another howling reminder of the need for an urgent fixing of these broken arrangements.