Bulgarian Bill On Illegal Assets May Be Ineffective

Bulgaria’s new bill on confiscation of illegally obtained assets may result in a partial amnesty, Germany's Ambassador to Bulgaria Matthias Hoepfner told Capital Daily on Monday. The revised bill is now under criticism for being too limited in scope. 

"The new bill should not cover too short a time span or exclude from the outset important areas. Otherwise it will only grant partial amnesty," Hoepfner said. He explained the importance of a reliable system of economic regulations and judiciary transparency for Bulgaria’s prosperity and interest from the foreign investors. 

The draft law was initiated by the former Bulgarian Minister of Justice and the current Vice President Margarita Popova. The first draft of the law would have allowed the authorities to investigate incomes and acquisitions twenty five years into the past, and seize unlawfully obtained assets without a conviction. In the opinion of the ruling party, this legislation is a powerful tool in the fight against corruption and crime.

The revised draft allows investigation into unexplained wealth obtained only ten years into the past, and amounting to more than US$170,000 (BGN 250,000). In addition, the revised draft provides that assets may only be forfeited if an indictment was issued. Non-conviction based asset forfeiture applies only to cases where a person is indicted for organized crime, terrorism, kidnapping, human trafficking, enticement to prostitution, embezzlement, theft, robbery, drug trafficking, or tax evasion.

"It is a pity that last year's bill for the forfeiture of illegally acquired assets, drawn up by former Justice Minister Popova, failed to pass in parliament. This is a well established measure for curbing organized crime in many countries. Forfeiture is what criminals, especially in the field of economic crime, fear most," Hoepfner told Capital daily.

The opponents of the revised bill argue that it facilitates prosecution and repression of political opponents while leaving white collar criminals, who amassed fortunes through shady privatization deals and administrative crimes, outside of the law’s reach.

“When a clerk has a very big house and drives a luxury car despite his relatively low income, he should be obliged to explain how he managed to pile up his wealth," Hoepfner said.

"The new version of the bill seeks to target not the ordinary citizens, but the members of organized crime groups," said Justice Minister Diana Kovacheva, defending the bill.

When the Bulgarian Parliament failed to adopt the original draft of the bill in July, the country drew criticism from the European Union. The European Commission’s interim report on Bulgaria urged that Commission for the Identification and Forfeiture of Criminal Assets (CEPACA) be granted the power to proactively verify assets of senior officials and politicians.

Bulgaria is expected to adopt the amendments to the law on confiscation of illegally obtained assets by the beginning of April, before the parliament breaks for its Easter holiday.