Bulgaria Waters Down Asset Forfeiture Law
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.
This is envisaged by amendments to the long-delayed bill authorizing widespread confiscation of illegally obtained assets, which were adopted at first reading by the majority in Bulgaria's parliament Thursday.
The regime was supported by 121 MPs, 70 voted against and 10 abstained.
The draft law 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 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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