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Round table: Assets Seizure in Europe: Legislative and Operational Instrument to Counter Corruption and Organized Crime
March 2, 2004
Sheraton Sofia Hotel Balkan

Summary of discussion

In their opening addresses the Chairman of CSD Dr. Ognian Shentov and Mr. Austin Gormley, Charge d’Affaires, Embassy of Ireland, pointed out the important role assets seizure could play for effectively countering corruption and organized crime. According to Dr. Shentov criminal justice alone may not be effective enough to successfully combat organized crime and corruption and it is therefore necessary other measures to be undertaken in that direction, including the introduction of assets forfeiture procedures. Speaking about combating organized crime as a major priority of the Irish presidency of the European Union, Mr. Gormley referred to the significance of public-private partnership for consolidating the efforts of all stakeholders in the area of prevention and countering organized crime.

The experience of Spain, France and Ireland in the area of assets seizure was presented by Mr. Miguel Angel Alonso Rodriguez, Chief Inspector of the Judicial Police, National Police of Spain, Mr. Gerard Leguet, Divisional Commissioner, Director of International Actions, Economic and Financial Directorate, General Directorate of Judicial Police, and Mr. Felix McKenna, Chief Bureau Officer, Criminal Assets Bureau of Ireland. The speakers paid special attention to the scope of application of assets seizure in their countries, the competent authorities and procedures for blocking and seizing property, as well as the mechanisms implemented to guarantee the rights of third parties. As explained by the speakers, there are two major approaches in Europe in terms of legal regulation of assets seizure: under the first one, followed by Spain and France, the rules on assets seizure are incorporated within the criminal law and procedure, while the under the second one, chosen by Ireland, assets forfeiture is regulated by a special law.

The Bulgarian Draft Law on Forfeiture to the State of Any Property, Acquired by Criminal Activity, was presented by the Minister of Interior Professor Georgi Petkanov. The draft, initially developed in 2002 and further improved in 2003, has been recently adopted by the Council of Ministers and is now to be submitted to the National Assembly. As explained by Professor Petkanov, the draft follows the Irish model and is aimed to introduce a civil procedure for assets forfeiture. The law, according to the Minister of Interior, reveals three main functions: compensative, regulative and preventive. As a major advantage of the draft Professor Petkanov pointed out the requirement for a court decision for both blocking and seizing the respective property.

Presenting the statement of the Union of Bulgarian Judges, the Chair of the Union Ms. Nelly Koutzkova, Chair of Sofia District Court, expressed support to the general purpose of the law and suggested some concrete amendments needed to further improve the draft. She also proposed an expert discussion to be organized before voting the draft at the Parliament.Ms. Svetla Tsacheva, Judge at the Supreme Court of Cassation, made a number of critical remarks, related primarily to the insufficient guarantees for protecting third parties’ rights.

The Deputy Director of the National Investigation Service Mr. Roumen Georgiev paid attention to the considerable public support in favor of adopting the law. Such support, Mr. Georgiev said, is an advantage during the process of developing the law, but may turn into a challenge in the course of its implementation.

In the opinion of the Director of the Financial Intelligence Agency Dr. Vassil Kirov the draft has been substantially improved and could successfully achieve its objectives. According to Dr. Kirov a major advantage of the law is its applicability to cases where criminal procedure has been suspended or could not be instituted.

Mr. Georgi Atanasov, Attorney-at-Law, appreciated the work done on the draft, but pointed out a number of weaknesses that need to be further considered when refining the text.

Mr. Vladimir Dontchev, MP, Chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Internal Security and Public Order, expressed his support to the draft and proposed the organization of a wider public and expert debate on the draft in the course of the legislative procedure.

Ms. Zdravka Kalaydzhieva, Attorney-at-Law, pointed out the Bulgarian society is strongly interested in the adoption of such a law, but in the same time the proposed draft should be further improved in order to successfully achieve the objectives it pursues.

In conclusion Professor Petkanov responded to some of the critics made during the discussion and expressed his belief that most of the recommendations will be taken into consideration during the next stages of the drafting process.
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