Bulgaria under EU Pressure over Illegal Assets Bill

Bulgaria in EU | April 10, 2012, Tuesday // 12:21|  views

The European Commission headquarters in Brussels. File photo

Bulgaria's rulers are in a hurry to adopt the bill authorizing widespread confiscation of illegal assets in a bid to please Brussels ahead of its upcoming report on the country's progress in justice and home affairs, insiders say.

The ruling majority in parliament will seek to pass the long-delayed bill by the beginning of May, when a delegation of the European Commission will arrive in the Balkan country to collect information for the monitoring report, the opposition-leaning Sega daily reported, citing well-informed sources.

The European Commission will publish in July its monitoring report on law enforcement and the fight against corruption and organized crime in the two EU newcomers – Bulgaria and Romania.

The document is said to be crucial for Bulgaria, as it will indicate whether the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), which was established on the accession of Bulgaria to the EU to help it put in place an impartial, independent and effective judicial and administrative system, will be lifted in 2013 or be extended.

The long-delayed and much-changed bill was initially expected to be voted on second reading by the Bulgarian Parliament before Easter, or mid-April.

Bulgarian authorities are likely to acquire 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 10 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 they create conditions for persecution and repression of political opponents, while making untouchable the white color criminals who piled up their wealth through privatization deals and administrative crimes.

According to unconfirmed information the bill will also probe the financing of parties, as well as participants in public procurements.

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 15 years and seize assets without conviction.

Foreign diplomats in Sofia has warned that watering down the bill for confiscation of illegally obtained assets may result in partial amnesty.

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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, Matthias Hoepfner


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