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Round table: Criminal Assets Recovery: Irish and Bulgarian Experience
On November 29, 2007, the Center for the Study of Democracy and the Embassy of Ireland in Sofia organized a round table discussion on Criminal Assets Recovery: Irish and Bulgarian Experience. The operation of the Irish Criminal Assets Bureau was presented by Chief Bureau Officer John O’Mahoney, who spoke to an audience of diplomats, prosecutors, customs officials, representatives of the National Institute of Justice and the Bulgarian Criminal Assets Forfeiture Commission and many journalists.

In his opening remarks, Dr. Ognian Shentov, Chairman of CSD, expressed the Center’s pleasure to host the event, which would give opportunities for sharing of experiences and review of practical results in the area of criminal assets recovery. Dr. Shentov underlined the long-standing cooperation Bulgaria had with Ireland in the area and emphasized that criminal assets recovery is an important instrument for countering corruption, despite the fears that asset forfeiture instruments might be abused.

In his welcoming notes, the Ambassador of Ireland to Bulgaria HE Geoffrey Keating, reminded about the murders of Detective Garda Gerry McCabe and journalist Veronica Guerin in 1996, which served as a catalyst and forced the Irish government to undertake measures about organized crime, bringing together police, financial authorities and social welfare services to go after criminals’ financial assets. The Ambassador underscored the vital importance of international cooperation, since organized crime does not respect national borders.

Mr. John O’Mahoney’s presentation was devoted to the history of the Irish CAB, the reasons for which it was set up, a review of its powers and its activity. Ireland’s economic success led to proliferation of organized crime, making traditional law-enforcement methods insufficient. The change in the approach of state authorities took its ultimate shape after the notorious 1996 murders with the creation of CAB in the same year. Under the Proceeds of Crime Act 1996 the Bureau was entrusted with identifying, freezing and seizing of criminal assets and combined the efforts of police forces, revenue officials and social welfare services, while keeping their individual powers, to investigate the money trail of organized crime, to make applications, freeze assets and after 7 years of receivership bring them back to the state budget, working under a civil standard of proof and needing no criminal conviction on the part of the court. Bureau officers can go after unjust enrichment as a result of corruption, they can tax criminals’ assets, take away their social welfare and enjoy a range of international cooperation tools, widened by the Act’s subsequent amendments of 2005. The efforts of the Bureau, Mr. O’Mahoney said, have resulted in over 120 million Euro of seized proceeds of crime, 2 million Euro of welfare savings and 150 million Euro of taxes collected.

In his follow-up intervention, Prof. Stoyan Kushlev, Chair of the Bulgarian Criminal Assets Forfeiture Commission, noted the pioneer role of CAB and its 10 years of experience in the criminal assets recovery area. Prof. Kushlev reminded that the Bulgarian Law on Criminal Assets Forfeiture used the Irish example, but at the same time turned out to be weaker in certain aspects, including the inability to seize unlawfully received social welfare, the need for a criminal conviction in order to start assets recovery proceedings and the slow, three-instance court proceedings. Still, despite its weaker legal framework, the Bulgarian Commission has still achieved significant practical results in terms of injunctions and proceedings opened. According to Prof. Kushlev, so far the Commission has imposed 98 injunctions to a total amount of 88,531,233 Levs and has filed 47 cases for recovering assets worth 24,503,458 Levs.

The ensuing discussion concentrated upon specific investigations of the Bulgarian and the Irish assets recovery bodies, the political climate, surrounding the work of the CAB and the cooperation with other bodies, related to assets recovery, including OLAF and the UN structures.

Program and presentations

Media Coverage (in Bulgarian)

Media Coverage (in English)
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