EU officials said the network will deter criminal activity by showing it does not pay.
By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 14/05/14
Pristina hosted a meeting of Balkan countries to form a network to manage confiscated assets [Safet Kabashaj/SETimes]
Balkan countries are making efforts to increase co-operation in the administration of sequestered and confiscated assets from criminals and organised crime groups.
Representatives from Albania, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Slovenia met in Pristina last month to create a network that will follow EU practices in confiscating and managing assets acquired through crime.
Officials said the Network of the Agencies for the Management of the Assets in the Balkans (BARIN) will foster inter-institutional exchange of information and other co-operation to more efficiently manage seized and confiscated assets.
"This [approach] will have an impact in achieving a most profitable management of seized assets with the goal of preserving their values and sale," Astrit Kolaj, a spokesperson for the Kosovo justice ministry, told SETimes.
Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) did not participate in the meeting, but Kosovo officials said they will be invited to become part of the forum.
EU officials welcomed the network as an important element in fighting organised crime.
"It is a positive step that will complement classical police and law enforcement co-operation in the western Balkans, and it represents a step in the direction toward adopting EU standards and practices in this area," Peter Stano, spokesman for the EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule, told SETimes.
The EU Council of Ministers adopted this year a new directive on freezing and confiscating assets.
The Union said the directive intends to make it easier for national authorities to confiscate and recover the profits made by criminals from cross-border and organised crime.
The directive establishes rules on extended confiscation powers including in cases when a judge has reasonable suspicion the property was obtained through crime or when suspects or accused persons cannot attend a property for long periods of time.
EU officials said facilitating asset confiscation will hamper criminal activities and deter criminality by showing that crime does not pay.
Less than 1 percent of the criminal proceeds in the EU have so far been frozen or confiscated.
Stano said the fight against organised crime is one of the key components for EU accession.
"The more efforts are being put into improving it and making it more effective, the better it is also for the preparations for the EU accession," he said.
BARIN will enhance regional law enforcement co-operation to undercut organised crime, said Bashkim Ahmeti, director of the Agency for Management of Confiscated Property in Macedonia.
"[M]embership in this regional network is of great importance to us. It will particularly help us with exchange of information regarding confiscation of property for individuals sentenced in other states. This kind of co-operation is a new way to fight organised crime and corruption," Ahmeti told SETimes.
Ahmeti said the network's focus is to preserve the value of the assets and the ability to reuse them.
Ahmeti also said Macedonia will initially be an observer, but will do everything to help the network to function smoothly and produce the desired results.
The Balkan countries are jointly addressing common problems by adopting the EU co-operation model, said Petrit Zogaj, executive director of the Fol movement in Pristina.
"It is much easier for the Balkans to have this kind of co-operation because it acts as a model about what methods and experience should be exchanged," Zogaj told SETimes.
Correspondent Miki Trajkovski in Skopje contributed to this report.
What else can the Balkan countries do to more effectively confiscate property acquired through crime? Share your opinion in the comments space.