Balkans embraces asset forfeiture to fight organised crime

06/07/2012

The European Commission estimates hundreds of billions of euros end up in the pockets of criminal gangs and mafia every year in Europe. Thwarting that requires a good legal framework for confiscating criminal assets.

By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 06/07/12

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Law enforcement personnel in several countries can seize assets obtained through criminal activity. [Reuters]

On the heels of new rules proposed by the European Commission (EC) to enable the confiscation of assets transferred to third parties and assets of a suspect who has fled, Albania swung into action last week.

Authorities seized the assets of two people on June 26th: Shpetim Kadani, who was arrested on drug trafficking charges, and Vasil Bajraktari, who was convicted of exploitation and prostitution. A joint investigation by Albania and Italy and a police operation code-named Cezar 1 led to the seizure of 4m euros in assets, including luxury hotels, land titles, businesses and apartments.

Overall, however, implementing laws on forfeiture and actually seizing properties owned and obtained through criminal activity remains a challenge in the region.

One solution, Drew Sullivan of the non-profit Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project told SETimes, is to reinvest seized assets in the law enforcement effort itself, in effect filling the war chest to fight crime. "The more they seize, the more tools they have to fight criminality. It can work very effectively," he said.

Kosovo does not have yet a law on the confiscation of such properties.

"The Law on confiscation of property obtained through criminal offenses is being drafted … while the confiscation of illegally obtained properties is supported by the Criminal Code," Astrit Kolaj, director of the press office at the justice ministry told SETimes.

Seb Bytyci, executive director of the Balkan Policy Institute, told SETimes there has been no political will for the fast approval of such a law in Kosovo. "There are some cases of confiscation of illegal assets but they are of little value. It involves mainly seizures of contraband from people living around the border areas. Many of them live below the poverty line. Therefore Kosovo's justice system punishes the poor but does not affect the politicians becoming rich overnight."

In 2008, neighbouring Serbia approved a Law on Seizure and Confiscation of the Proceeds from Crime. And it has worked, leading to the confiscation of properties worth an estimated 350m euros so far. The seized properties include apartments and houses, hotels, restaurants, offices, companies, cash, motor vehicles and artwork, according to Serbia's tabloid Press.

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Croatia allows the seizing of criminal assets as soon as a verdict is issued. Macedonia has amended its Criminal Code to allow the seizure of criminal assets by a larger group of people, involved in criminal activity.

Albania has approved an anti-mafia law to allow asset forfeiture through civil proceedings. In May, the Bulgarian parliament passed a law on the confiscation of assets acquired through criminal activity. It will take effect in November.

The EC has noted that "the proceeds of organised criminal groups are increasingly invested outside their home country, often in several Member States, or transferred to third parties … in order to avoid confiscation."

"We need to hit criminals where it hurts, by going after the money, and we have to get their profits back in to the legal economy, especially in these times of crisis," Cecilia Malmström, EU commissioner for home affairs, said on March 13th.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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