US Envoy to Bulgaria Raises Alarm over Killed Illegal Assets Law
US Ambassador to Bulgaria has voiced disappointment and concerns after parliament voted down a long-delayed and keenly expected bill for a tougher crack-down on illegal assets.
"We are very disappointed upon hearing that the parliament failed to pass the asset forfeiture bill today... Failure to pass this legislation is a serious setback," says a statement by US Ambassador to Bulgaria James Warlick, circulated to the media shortly after the news broke.
It points out that non-conviction based asset forfeiture is an important tool in the fight against organized crime and corruption, and is used in countries such as the United States, UK, Italy, Australia, and Ireland.
Ambassador Warlick stresses that the bill has already been approved by the Venice Commission as effective and fully consistent with democratic norms.
"We hope that in the next session of Parliament the government will seek again to pass this bill in its current form," his statement concludes.
The majority in Bulgaria's parliament surprisingly failed to pass through the bill, initiated by Bulgaria's Justice Minister Margarita Popova and widely touted by the ruling party as a powerful tool in crime and corruption combat.
The law provided for Bulgarian authorities to have the right to seize unexplained wealth, worth more than BGN 150,000, without a conviction as of January 1, 2012.
The Council of Europe's Venice Commission recommended this timeline after approving the final, fifth version of the draft law in the middle of June.
The commission called on Bulgaria's parliament to pass the new law by its summer recess. The European Commission, which sees the legislation as a powerful weapon in the country's corruption combat, has set the same deadline.
The bill allowed the state Commission for Establishing of Property Acquired from Criminal Activity to probe the property and bank account of members of the families of people who cannot explain their sources of income in court and their partners.
Donations made in order to hide assets from the commission will also be subject to probes. Under the law transactions with criminally acquired property will be void and subject to forfeiture. So if the holders of illegal assets get rid of them by selling them quickly at low prices, buyers can also be held accountable.
The commission will have the right to launch investigations into incomes and acquisitions for the last fifteen years, the draft law says.
Under parliamentary rules the bill can be tabled in parliament again after three months at the earliest and only if significant changes are made in its main provisions.
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