Hill Leads First Counter-Trafficking Initiative Hearing

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Washington, March 4, 2020 | comments
WASHINGTON D.C. — Today, Rep. French Hill (AR-02), Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on National Security, International Development, and Monetary Policy, helped lead a hearing entitled, “The Traffickers’ Roadmap: How Bad Actors Exploit Financial Systems to Facilitate the Illicit Trade in People, Animals, Drugs, and Weapons.” This hearing is the first in a series as part of the House Financial Services Committee’s Counter-Trafficking Initiative designed to explore and expose the breadth and reach of transnational trafficking networks and their illicit, ill-gotten gains.

Highlights of Congressman Hill's remarks, as prepared, are copied below:

Trafficking’s Impact on Arkansas

In my home state of Arkansas, drug trafficking continues to be a heightened concern. I have heard stories from many heartbroken Arkansans detailing how the opioid crisis claimed the lives of their loved ones. We can’t allow more families to be destroyed by the opioid crisis, which is killing more than 130 Americans every day.

Overdoses are rising across Arkansas and fentanyl continues to be a growing threat in our communities.

That is why I’m proud to lead H.R. 2483, the Fentanyl Sanctions Act with Rep. Rose of New York, which is the first-ever fentanyl sanctions effort in the House. 

The legislation applies pressure on the Chinese government to honor their commitment to make fentanyl illegal and provide the United States with more tools and resources to go after illicit traffickers in China, Mexico, and other countries. This legislation was included in the FY 2020 National Defense Authorization Act

This complements work I have undertaken with Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) to fight the opioid epidemic. During the 115th Congress, we both introduced the Ending the Fentanyl Crisis Act, which would strengthen penalties for fentanyl distribution and trafficking, and would provide additional screening resources for the United States Postal Service. The SUPPORT Act, which was signed into law in October 2018, included provisions to strengthen mail screening for synthetic opioids.

Illicit Trade in Tobacco

A couple years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Vanessa Neumann, a Venezuelan-American diplomat who now consults on ways to dismantle illicit finance. 

Her 2017 book entitled “Blood Profits: How American Consumers Unwittingly Finance Terrorists” details a variety of ways the $400 billion counterfeiting industry is funding terrorists around the world. 

She outlines that 11% of the approximately 5.7 trillion cigarettes smoked each year are illicitly traded. The illicit tobacco trade is larger than the illicit trade of oil, wildlife, timber, arts cultural property, and blood diamonds combined.

Furthermore, the funding for tobacco trafficking often comes from developed economies including in the United States.

To that end, I’m disappointed we were not able to have a tobacco trafficking witness for today’s panel. I understand that this industry can often be politically charged and can take away from the larger discussion; however, it would have been valuable to learn about how tobacco trafficking is financed and how it is benefitting terrorist organizations.

Terrorist Financing

Today, I am interested in learning more about the financing of trafficking and how and when the lines between terrorist financing and trafficking financing became more blurred. 

As I understand it, following the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, President Bush invoked an executive order which has made it more difficult for terrorist groups to access their funding. As a result, global terrorism has merged with organized crime to create financing workarounds. 

The U.S. Department of Treasury released their “2020 National Strategy for Combating Terrorist and Other Illicit Financing” last month which outlined drug and human trafficking, terrorist financing and organized crime as some of the most significant threats and vulnerabilities for allowing illicit proceeds to the enter the United States.

Trafficking is a major concern in the United States, and I look forward to working jointly with the Department of Treasury, FBI, Department of Homeland Security and the National Counterterrorism Center to design new tools to stop this growing threat.
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