On August 9, 2019, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador passed legislation that added corruption to the catalogue of criminal conduct subject to asset forfeiture proceedings. Mexico's new Ley Nacional de Extinción de Dominio (Asset Forfeiture Law), in conjunction with harmonizing amendments to the Código Nacional de Procedimientos Penales (National Code of Civil Procedure), empowers the Mexican government to seize from corrupt private individuals and companies any assets acquired illicitly, used in furtherance of illicit activity, or in respect of which good title cannot be evidenced. Just recently, a Special Forfeiture Unit in the Fiscalía General de la República (the Attorney's General Office) was established to investigate and bring asset forfeiture cases.
However, one aspect of the new law has been criticized heavily, including by former Mexico Attorney General Ignacio Morales Lechuga, and even has led to Amparo suits (Constitutional appeals) by aggrieved parties. Specifically, detractors believe the new law's controversial application to asset forfeiture procedures initiated as of the effective date of the Law, being August 10, 2019, even where the relevant corrupt acts occurred prior to that date, contravenes the Constitución Política de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos (the Constitution of Mexico), which expressly forbids Mexican law from prejudicing persons retroactively.
Ley Nacional de Extinción de Dominio and the Fiscalía General de la República's Special Forfeiture Unit
Asset forfeiturestates recovering ill-gotten gains from criminalsis nothing new. Indeed, Mexico passed its first forfeiture law in 2008 in response to a perceived increase in violent organized crime. The 2008 law was welcomed, as it purportedly enabled the government to pursue the finances of Mexico's drug cartels. However, that law provided for asset recovery within the limits of existing constitutional protections and ultimately was less successful than envisaged.
Following a political campaign focused on combating political impunity, corruption, and organized crime, President Obrador's Movimiento de Regeneración Nacional (Movement for National Regeneration, or "Morena" Administration) amended Articles 22 and 73 of the Mexican Constitution in March of 2019, in order to reduce certain constitutional restrictions. The new Asset Forfeiture Law followed five months later. Though influenced by the laws of the United States, Italy, Guatemala, and Colombia, the...