Bulgaria’s Parliament passed at first reading on December 7 amendments to the Asset Forfeiture Act, the law regulating the confiscation of assets acquired through criminal activity first passed by MPs just six months earlier.
The amendments were made necessary after the Constitutional Court ruled that parts of the law were unconstitutional – as opposition parties predicted at the time the law was passed in May, despite the strong rebuttals from the ruling majority and Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov.
Opposition MPs once again criticised the law – socialist Lyuben Kornezov, quoted by Bulgarian National Television, said that his party supported the idea of asset forfeiture, but the current law was fundamentally flawed and put many innocent people at risk. It could even be used as a tool of political repression, he said.
The key amendments passed on December 7 were a reduction of the statute of limitations from 15 years to 10 years, as well as the addition of a new chapter regulating state compensation for the victims of the crimes.
The law was due to come into force in November and mandates a revamp of the existing state commission on confiscating assets acquired through criminal activity. A new commission will have to be set up, according to the law’s initial provisions, no later than January 2013, though that deadline might have to be pushed back now.
The commission will have the power to investigate individuals without prior notification and would not require a criminal conviction in order to launch an investigation. Once any asset is impounded, its owner would have one month to present proof that the respective property was acquired using money gained in a lawful way.
The Asset Forfeiture Act is meant to strengthen Bulgarian judiciary’s currently weak capacity to confiscate the assets of convicted criminals – a recurrent criticism in the annual Co-operation and Verification Mechanism reports issued by the European Commission on the country’s progress in fighting organised crime and reforming the judiciary.
According to research done jointly by the Interior Ministry and the Centre for Study of Democracy think-tank earlier this year, the size of assets acquired as a result of criminal activity in Bulgaria was estimated at about 3.5 billion leva.
(Photo: Jason Morisson/sxc.hu)