Bulgaria Passes Controversial Illegal Assets Law

Bulgaria passed a controversial bill on confiscation of illegal assets late Thursday evening, in a long awaited move. The Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov had threatened earlier to resign if the law was not passed by the Parliament, Novinite news reported in March. 

"Every Bulgarian citizen who had illegally acquired any asset will have this asset confiscated. This is what common folk want and what we passed. We are in power today, but others will come after us and this law will still be in place," Borisov said at the Thursday session.

According to the law, the State has the right to confiscate assets determined to be illegal and belonging to people who are charged with serious crimes such as terrorism, organized crime, kidnapping, human trafficking, soliciting prostitution and tax evasion. Once charges are filed against an individual, police may probe into discrepancies between assets and declared income. The probe can go back as many as ten years. The law requires a minimum discrepancy of BGN 250,000 (US$167,923). 

The bill drew national and international attention, as Bulgaria’s efforts to combat corruption and organized crime are a prominent issue in the country’s integration into the European Union (EU). Bulgaria was under pressure from the EU to pass effective legislature for seizure of illegal assets, and the Parliament worked hard to pass the law before the arrival of EU Commission delegation in early May. The EU Commission will publish a report on Bulgaria’s progress in July.

The bill’s opponents characterized it as too limited in scope and ineffective. Concerns were raised that the bill would harm the regular citizens and could be used for political prosecution, rather than for punishing those who have amassed fortunes through shady privatization deals and administrative theft.

It took five fiery parliamentary sessions but Borisov thanked the Parliament for passing the law, and even thanked the opposition for making useful changes to the bill. He pointed out that while differences in opinion and debates are required for parliamentary democracy, the Parliament must make decisions based on what is right for the Bulgarian people, and the country’s EU and NATO partners.

Borisov added that he expects the new legislation to draw a positive reaction from the international community.

In a press release by the US Embassy in Sofia, the US ambassador James Warlick congratulated Bulgaria on passing the law.

“Strong, non-conviction based asset forfeiture legislation is an essential tool in the fight against organized crime and is therefore something the United States has supported.  I am very pleased with the steps taken yesterday and hope that the new legislation will be implemented as quickly as possible," said Warlick.