Enhancing Integrity and Effectiveness of Illegal Asset Confiscation - European Approaches
Transparency International – Bulgaria, Transparency International – Italy and Transparency International – Romania present the Legal Researches of their national models for Forfeiture of Illegal Assets or Confiscation of Criminal Assets in the framework of a joint EU funded initiative
On Thursday, February 27 2014, the National Chapters of Transparency International in Bulgaria, Italy and Romania launch simultaneously three Nationals Reports on the Forfeiture of Criminal and Illegal Assets. The publications aim to present three different models for forfeiture and management of assets and provide for recommendations on how to tackle deficiencies on national level.
The Legal researches are the corner stone for an upcoming civil monitoring on the work of confiscation authorities in the three countries. The three Chapters of TI will conduct monitoring of their National confiscation authorities based on specific indicators. The aim is to identify the level of transparency, efficiency, integrity and accountability of the national institutions, involved in the process of asset forfeiture and the management of the frozen and confiscated assets.
The project is implemented with the financial support of the Prevention of and Fight against Crime Programme of the Directorate-General Home Affairs of the European Commission
Three national chapters of Transparency International, being also EU MSs (TI–Bulgaria, TI–Italy and TI-Romania) are conducting a 24-month research and independent civil monitoring over the legal, institutional, and operational modes of the Asset Recovery Offices (AROs) and policies to outline their main strong/weak aspects in terms of competencies, capacity, performance and integrity. The aim of the project is to support the effectiveness, accountability and transparency of asset confiscation policies and practices in Europe, allowing for improved cooperation between authorities in MSs.
The legal research shall provide for objective understanding of main strong and weak areas in asset confiscation legal, institutional and policy practices in BG, RO and IT, and will become the basis for the independent civil monitoring and the exchange of know-how and good practice. The addressed shortcomings and recommendations will trigger improvement of the institutional and procedural capacities of AROs on local and EU level, esp. regarding transparency, accountability, integrity, modes of operation, human resource management, coherence with other relevant authorities, access to databases, use of expertise in asset assessments, cost effectiveness. The project findings (lessons learnt) will also be disseminated via the TI network on regional and EU level. Ultimately, this means strengthened capacities of AROs and better possibilities for cooperation between MSs and civil society representatives at regional and EU-level.
Confiscation of property acquired through crime and the forfeiture of illegal assets are instruments for active counteraction of serious crimes that are of nature to generate economic gain for their perpetrators or third persons. The application of such mechanisms requires a firm political will and a particular governmental policy to combat crime. It is grounded on the awareness of an existing high risk of growing organised crime and corruption and the perception for its negative effect on the governance and economic development of the country.
The reasons behind the adoption of legislation for forfeiture of illegal assets or confiscation of criminal assets differ from one country to another but this specific approach should be taken as a clear policy against cumulating of assets whose legal origin cannot be proven or which derive from criminal conduct. It aims at prevention and provides for dissuasive effect on future perpetrators.
The relevance of this problematic is in removing the economic gain from serious crime (including, but not limited to drug trafficking, corruption, money laundering, organised crime) in order to discourage the criminal conduct. Its importance is evidenced by the number of multilateral treaties that have been concluded and provide obligations for states to cooperate with one another on confiscation, asset sharing, legal assistance, and compensation of victims. Several United Nations conventions (including the United Nations Convention against Corruption) and multilateral treaties contain provisions with regard to forfeiture of assets.
In contrast to conviction based confiscation, the forfeiture of illegally acquired assets (civil forfeiture) is the forfeiture in favour of the state of such assets in the framework of civil proceedings. These civil proceedings do not require a final conviction for a crime committed where the crime has justified the launch of proceedings under a specific law.
Unlike the classic models of confiscation of criminal assets the non-conviction based forfeiture is a useful tool in a variety of contexts, particularly when criminal confiscation is not possible or available. The adoption of the non-conviction-based forfeiture approach should be seen as an operational instrument for a quicker reaction on the part of the state authorities as well as an effective tool for sizing and forfeiting the proceeds of crimes independently from the outcome of the criminal justice proceedings. Because a non-conviction-based forfeiture is an action against the asset itself, it can proceed regardless of death, flight, or any immunity the criminal or the corrupt official might enjoy.
The issue of asset forfeiture is subject of regulation on EU level as well. The making of a draft Directive for freezing and confiscation of proceeds from criminal activity in the European Union was accompanied by high expectations. Some even led to deliberation of the possibility for non-conviction asset forfeiture, before a final court verdict, which however did not become the general rule but rather provided for a few exceptions. The EU Directive remains with a limited scope as it only deals with confiscation of criminal (and not illegal) assets, but it could be assessed as a positive first step in the establishment of common EU standards in the field of confiscation of assets.
The legal research FORFEITURE OF ILLEGAL ASSETS: CHALLENGES AND PERSPECTIVES OF THE BULGARIAN APPROACH is focused on the model of the non-conviction based confiscation introduced in Bulgaria in 2012 with the Forfeiture in Favour of the State of Illegally Acquired Assets Act.
The Law provides for a special Commission on Illegal Asset Forfeiture whose role is to perform examination of the assets, institute proceedings for imposition of precautionary measures, and submit a motion for an injunction securing a future action for forfeiture of unlawfully acquired assets to the district civil court.
The Legal research looks at the procedures for the set-up of the newly established Commission, the rules for transparency and integrity of its members and personnel as well as the object, subject and the stags of illegal assets forfeiture.
The inventory of crimes provided for in the Law includes crimes that typically generate assets such as organized crime, drug-related crimes, money laundering, trafficking or corruption etc. as well as other crimes that allow to expand the scope of forfeiture to illegally acquired assets of a broader range of persons. The Law provides for two alternative grounds for the launch the examination: commission of a crime or of an administrative violation. It is important to note that the forfeiture of illegal assets is a complex procedure which involves: examination of the assets, made by the Commission for Illegal Asset Forfeiture, the freeze and forfeiture of assets – made by the civil court and the management of frozen/forfeited assets – made respectively by the Commission of Illegal Assets Forfeiture/ and a Special Council for Management of Forfeited Assets.
The actual forfeiture of illegally acquired assets does not achieve in full the objective of the law to protect the public interest and restore rule of law and justice. Forfeited assets need to be well managed and their economic functions well preserved so that they can be used effectively to public ends as well as for compensation for damage caused by the crime that generated the illegal assets. In this regard the main question once the assets have been forfeited concerns their administration and management. The management of assets is evaluated as the weakest and least developed part of the procedures in Bulgaria.
The Legal Research of the Italian system “ILLICIT ASSETS RECOVERY IN ITALY” descripts their model of confiscation of assets: a more peculiar system for the confiscation of assets; it is impossible to identify it under the traditional bi-partition among conviction based (criminal) confiscation and non-conviction based confiscation. On one side there is a general regime which lies under the criminal conviction based model; on the other side a special discipline for criminal organisations is also provided and it works through a precautionary proceeding which is separate from the criminal one and it operates regardless of the criminal conviction of the person whose assets are seized/confiscated by the State.
The two-tiered regime splits confiscation procedures on two levels:
The legal research for Romania “EXTENDED CONFISCATION PROCEDURE IN ROMANIA” presents an analysis of current confiscation procedures (extended confiscation) in Romania, being based on the applicable legislation, questionnaires regarding institutional practice and statistics answered by representatives of institutions with competence in the field, magistrates, civil society organizations, representatives of the media and businessmen.
Some of the important conclusions in Romania refer to the lack of transparency in the management and recovery of confiscated property and the lack of efficient cooperation between confiscation authorities. In addition the statistics held by the relevant institutions do not allow to make a realistic and fair evaluation of the situation regarding concluded confiscation procedures.
In light of the above, the recommendations made in the report target the development and implementation of effective instruments and mechanisms at the level of the institutions with responsibilities in the field of confiscation, the transparent and timely publication of statistics on confiscation by relevant institutions and regular consultations with relevant stakeholders on general and specific issues related to confiscation.
Full reports and Executive Summaries can be found at the RESEARCH page.