Bulgarian MPs Pass More of Confiscation Bill at Midnight

Domestic | May 3, 2012, Thursday // 14:06|  views

Bulgaria's MPs heated debates over the bill for illegal assets forfeiture continued until midnight Wednesday only to be resumed early Thursday morning. File photo

Bulgaria's ruling majority in the Parliament has adopted another part of a controversial bill authorizing confiscation of illegal assets at midnight Wednesday and the debates are continuing full force Thursday.

It is expected that the Members of the Parliament will continue to work overtime until the end of the workweek in order to turn the bill into law by Friday.

The opposition demanded to include text that would ban freezing of assets of third parties found with an individual subject to a probe by the Confiscation Commission, but it was rejected by the ruling majority on grounds such postulate is already included in the Penal Code.

The debates were re-launched early Thursday morning. Initially, the MPs from the ruling center-right Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria party, GERB, proposed to hold the session until the entire bill is passed at second reading, but around midnight, when only half of it had been examined, they requested to resume the debates on the next day.

Almost all paragraphs are disputed by the opposition which insists every time that this is a repressive law aimed at ordinary citizens, victimizing them and forcing them to become snitches while it would not affect in reality the serious organized crime and would turn detrimental to the business.

The strongest such reaction was triggered by the removal of a text that was passed at first reading, according to which an individual whose assets had been frozen could request a lift of the freeze if he or she needs money for medical treatment, to pay child support, salaries of his employees or a defense lawyer. The MPs now have revoked this postulate and adopted a text allowing the Court to make a decision when there is "unavoidable emergency" for the said individual.

The MPs further adopted a mandate for State and municipal administrations, merchants, credit institutions, notary publics, and private law enforcement officers to provide information about the probed persons, but under pressure from the opposition, removed the same mandate for private individuals. This precise text prompted accusations that the new law will force Bulgarians to spy on each other, even on relatives.

GERB further gave up on a text that provided for the Chair of the Commission for Establishing of Property Acquired from Criminal Activity and for the Heads of its Local Directorates to have the right to request access to the "entire information" about a probed person.

Justice Minister, Diana Kovacheva, refuted Thursday earlier reports that the ruling majority in the Parliament seeks to pass the law before the pending arrival of a delegation of the European Commission to collect information for the monitoring report.

Kovacheva says the EC visit is routine and has been planned a long time ago.

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.

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, was widely touted by the ruling party as a powerful tool in crime and corruption combat.

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

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


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