Bulgarian Watchdog Head Steps Up Calls for Unexplained Wealth Law

Politics » DOMESTIC | December 12, 2011, Monday // 14:10
Bulgaria: Bulgarian Watchdog Head Steps Up Calls for Unexplained Wealth Law Todor Kolarov, Head of Bulgaria's Commission for Establishing of Property Acquired from Criminal Activity, has presented the watchdog's stance on how Bulgaria should introduce non-conviction based confiscation. Photo by BNES

Bulgaria's Commission for Establishing of Property Acquired from Criminal Activity has ultimately confiscated a total of BGN 9 M since the beginning of 2011, according to Todor Kolarov, director of the watchdog.

In a Monday interview for the Bulgarian National Radio (BNR), he highlighted that the Commission had seized a total of BGN 6 M since its establishment in 2005 until 2010.

Kolarov said that he had met with newly-appointed Justice Minister Diana Kovacheva to present his concept for the future Law on Counteracting Unexplained Wealth

"I cannot agree that the fundamental principle enshrined in the draft bill of the former Justice Minister Margarita Popova, namely the launch of civil proceedings without a conviction, violates citizens' rights and is not applied in Europe and across the world. This is not true," Kolarov insisted.

He argued that the new law had to elaborate on the statute of the watchdog and boost its independence.

"Any ideas for introducing current monitoring by the Parliament will have negative repercussions," he added.

"The new law must take into account case law and our experience. Nearly everybody is convinced that non-conviction based confiscation is an efficient means of combating heavy organized crime and high-level corruption," the watchdog's head announced.

He further drew attention to the importance of the new law being titled a law on counteracting unexplained wealth.

"This is how it should be called, which will define its field of application. By speaking about assets acquired through criminal activity, we are technically narrowing down the law's field of application, rendering it inefficient in cases in which are trying to expose high-level organized crime and heavy political corruption. It is very difficult to reach high-level officials through criminal justice mechanisms, which is why mechanisms for the confiscation of unexplained wealth are deployed," Kolarov explained.

In a July 08 vote, the Bulgarian Parliament failed to pass the bill initiated by then Justice Minister Margarita Popova allowing authorities to seize unexplained wealth worth over BGN 150 000 without a conviction as of January 1, 2012.

The Council of Europe's Venice Commission had recommended this timeline after approving the final, fifth version of the draft law in the middle of June.

Under Bulgarian legislation, the bill can be tabled in Parliament again after three months at the least and only if its main provisions have undergone significant changes.

In end-October, Popova was elected Vice President on the ticket of the ruling, center-right Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria party (GERB).

Her successor, Diana Kovacheva, a former Head of Transparency Without Borders, the Bulgarian unit of Transparency International, was sworn in as Justice Minister on November 30.

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Tags: illegal assets, Todor Kolarov, Commission for Establishing of Property Acquired from Criminal Activity, Margarita Popova, Justice Minister, Diana Kovacheva
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