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Bulgaria approves tougher illegal assets law

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 18 May 2011 13:43 GMT
Author: Reuters
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SOFIA, May 18 - The Bulgarian government approved on Wednesday a long-delayed bill authorising widespread confiscation of illegally obtained assets, a move seen as a powerful weapon against organised crime and corruption. The law, which has still to be passed by the parliament, will allow the state Commission for Establishing of Property Acquired from Criminal Activity to launch its own investigations of people who cannot explain their sources of income in court.

The bill will allow "civil confiscation" -- the seizure of unexplained wealth without a conviction, rather than only after sentencing, as current law stipulates.

It has come under fire from lawyers and non-government organisations who said it would violate human rights.

"The bill is a decisive step aimed at overcoming the registered deficit of anti-corruption measures," the government said in a statement. "Civil confiscation will give the state the opportunity to achieve a significant progress in the fight against crime."

Since it was set up in 2005, the commission has managed to seize assets worth 10.8 million levs (${esc.dollar}7.88 million).

The centre-right government of Boiko Borisov must show the European Union results in its efforts to restore the rule of law in one of the bloc&${esc.hash}39;s most corrupt member state in order to join its borderless Schengen travel zone.

Since its EU accession in 2007, Sofia has faced repeated criticism from the bloc&${esc.hash}39;s executive commission which monitors its efforts for failing to make good on commitments to address graft.

Borisov&${esc.hash}39;s GERB party came to power almost two years ago on promises to stamp out endemic graft and crime but some trials have ended with acquittals, piling pressure on the cabinet and the judiciary system.

(Reporting by Irina Ivanova; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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