Bulgaria to Boast Illegal Asset Forfeiture Law by Easter

Crime | March 6, 2012, Tuesday // 19:44|  views

In the middle of February Bulgaria’s MPs debated the regime for non-conviction based asset forfeiture for hours on end, seeking a watered down version that will please Brussles. Photo by Sofia Photo Agency

Amendments to the long-delayed bill authorizing widespread confiscation of illegally obtained assets are expected to be conclusively adopted by Bulgaria's parliament by Easter.

"We are currently between the first and second reading of the bill. We have made ??proposals for changes to some of the texts, but the general concept remains the same. I do not know why there are doubts about the adoption of the bill. There are deadlines that we must stick to, but I hope the bill will be passed at second reading by the Easter holidays," Atanas Atanasov, deputy parliamentary speaker, said in an interview for Darik radio on Tuesday.

Bulgarian authorities are likely to have the right to launch probes and seize - following an indictment - unexplained wealth, worth more than BGN 250,000, which has been acquired over the last ten years, under the draft law.

It sets out a regime for non-conviction based asset forfeiture, but the procedure will be launched only if the person is indicted with terrorism, participation in an organized criminal group, kidnapping, enticement to prostitution, human trafficking, theft, robbery, embezzlement, unprofitable deal drugs and tax evasion.

The opposition has slammed the amendments, saying that it creates conditions for persecutions and repressions of political opponents, while making untouchable the white color criminals, who piled up their wealth through privatization deals and administrative crimes.

The majority in Bulgaria's parliament surprisingly failed to pass through the keenly expected bill in July last year, triggering fierce criticism in the EU and US, as well as suspicions of a set-up.

The draft law, initiated by Bulgaria's former Justice Minister and current Vice President Margarita Popova and widely touted by the ruling party as a powerful tool in crime and corruption combat, initially envisaged that the commission will have the right to launch investigations into incomes and acquisitions for the last twenty-five years and seize assets without conviction.

"The new version of the bill seeks to target not the ordinary citizens, but the members of organized crime groups," the recently appointed Justice Minister Diana Kovacheva justified the changes.

Analysts however have commented that the period of ten years and the condition for an indictment in place practically will make many people untouchable.

Bulgaria's law on asset forfeiture needs to be comprehensive, and backed up with strong institutions, if it is to be effective in dissuading organized crime and high-level corruption, the European Commission recommended in its interim report, issued earlier this month.

The interim report pointed out that while the European Commission recommended the inclusion of the power for the Commission for the Identification and Forfeiture of Criminal Assets (CEPACA) to undertake pro-active asset verification of senior officials and politicians, this aspect does not seem to be pursued.

Brussels stressed that the parliamentary discussions should be an opportunity to strengthen the draft to ensure an asset forfeiture regime which is comprehensive in scope, covers a sufficient timespan to be effective, and is backed up by strong institutions.

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Tags: European Commission, Council of Europe, crime, corruption, Commission for Establishing of Property Acquired from Criminal Activity, Boyko Borisov, government, center-right, Margarita Popova, venice commission, assets, confiscation, wealth, illegal, Bulgaria, Bulgarian, Justice Minister, Diana Kovacheva


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