Bulgarian Ruling Party's Version of Illegal Assets Bill Prevails at Debates

Domestic | February 3, 2012, Friday // 13:55|  views

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The second day of debates on the two draft bills on the confiscation of illegal assets tabled by Krasimir Velchev, Chair of the parliamentary group of center-right ruling party GERB, and Hristo Biserov from the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), yet again failed to yield constructive dialogue and degenerated into an exchange of mutual accusations.

The discussion at the Parliamentary Legal Committee lasted around two hours and was very similar to Wednesday's debates at the Internal Security and Public Order Committee.
On Thursday, the Parliamentary Legal Committee reviewed and passed at first reading GERB's version of the asset forfeiture bill with 13 votes in favor, mostly from MPs of GERB and the right-wing Blue Coalition.

Biserov's project was rejected again.

During the debates, the most vocal opponent of the proposed legislation, Mihail Mikov, former Interior Minister and MP from the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), reiterated the arguments he had stated on Wednesday.

He argued that the draft bill had emerged because the judiciary was failing to make good use of the opportunities given by the law.

Mikov insisted that the prosecution was not using efficiently enough the resources it had been given under the Penal Code.

"Our biggest problem is with Brussels," Mikov said, specifying that instead of silently accepting sanctions from the EU, the Bulgarian Parliament could put more efforts into explaining to its Western partners that the inefficient confiscation of unexplained wealth could be remedied through amendments to the Penal Code.

Speaking to the Parliamentary Legal Committee on Thursday, he drew attention to the "ridiculous" goal of the draft bill "to restore the belief in justice in society".

"Let us embark on a round of nationalization, this would be much more efficient in restoring people's belief in justice," the socialist MP suggested.

He went on to say that the people's belief in justice could be restored through an efficient judiciary.

"By this law we are proving that we do not have an operational prosecuting authority and courts," Mikov stated.

He explained that the so-called civil confiscation would not restore social justice because people with illegal wealth would be able to afford consultations from top lawyers and accountants so as to "prove" the origins of their property.

"Bulgarian middle business, or what GERB did not manage to destroy of it, and will not manage to destroy by the end of its term in office, emerged amid a grey economy during the years of the transition. Every middle businessman who made it through is a client for the confiscation authority," Hristo Biserov noted.

Ekaterina Mihaylova from the right-wing Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria (DSB) party noted that DSB would support both draft bills because they both had their qualities, but asked the MPs to provide sufficient guarantees that the confiscation authority and its controlling organ in Parliament would not include other members than those from the ruling party.

Iskra Fidosova, Chair of the Parliamentary Legal Committee, assured that GERB was in favor of creating an independent committee with a reserved quota for the opposition.

Maya Manolova from BSP joined the argument by stressing that the minimum threshold of BGN 250 000 proposed by GERB for triggering an inspection applied for an unclear period of time.

"For what period will the inconsistency be checked? Is it one, or 10 or 20 years , because it makes a huge difference," Manolova inquired.

She further noted that the draft legislation did not provide sufficient guarantees against abuse of power by the Commission for Establishing of Property Acquired from Criminal Activity because it failed to set out a clear liability mechanism for flawed inspections.

Manolova stressed that the State Liability Act for Damage Inflicted on Citizens under which people could seek compensation from the Interior Ministry or the prosecution was inapplicable in this case.

This is the second attempt for the adoption of a law on the confiscation of illegally obtained assets.

In the summer of 2011, the Parliament rejected the draft bill tabled by then-Justice Minister and current Vice President Margarita Popova, triggering fierce criticism in the EU and US, as well as suspicions of a set-up.

The draft bill, widely touted by the ruling party as a powerful tool in crime and corruption combat, initially provided that the Commission would have the right to probe  incomes and property acquisitions for a period of twenty-five years and seize assets without conviction.

In the beginning of 2012, Popova's successor, Diana Kovacheva, announced that the Justice Ministry would not be working on the project.

GERB's version of the draft bill envisages a minimum threshold of BGN 250 000 of unexplained wealth for the launch of an investigation.

Another correction is the minimum period subject to investigation, which has been reduced to 10 years from the initial 25.

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Tags: illegal assets, asset freeze, confiscation of illegally acquired assets, confiscation of unexplained wealth, Diana Kovacheva, GERB, BSP, DPS, ruling party, Movement for Rights and Freedoms, Bulgarian Socialist Party, Hristo Biserov, Krasimir Velchev, Iskra Fidosova, Margarita Popova, Justice Minister


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