• Only 1% of criminal assets end up being confiscated in Europe (Photo: ljlphotography)

EU to donate criminal assets to charity

25.02.14 @ 18:29

  1. By Nikolaj Nielsen
  2. Nikolaj email
  3. Nikolaj Twitter

BRUSSELS - Criminal suspects who flee the country or who are ill could still have their illicit assets confiscated and donated to charity under new rules endorsed by the European Parliament.

The bill, voted through by euro-deputies in Strasbourg on Tuesday (25 February), lays out new rules on freezing and confiscating proceeds of crime.

Romanian centre-right MEP Monica Macovei, the parliament’s lead negotiator on the file, described it as a “win-win” situation.

“Citizens win, there would be more money for schools, pensions, hospitals, member states win because there would be more money in the national coffers and the EU wins as well,” she said during a plenary debate on Monday evening.

Billions are said to be lost every year, with just 1 percent or so confiscated.

The overall plan is to fill in legal loopholes in member state legislation that prevent authorities from getting hold of assets like cars and houses purchased with drug money or other criminal activities.

The new rules say the property can be grabbed even if the guilty party is ill or has left the country and has not been subject to a criminal conviction.

The person must explain to a judge how they paid for the items or risk having them seized and sold off. The money could then be pooled into a special fund set to help people in need.

The bill notes that such a fund should be open to pilot projects by EU citizens, associations, coalitions of NGOs and any other civil society organisation “to encourage the effective social reuse of the confiscated assets and to expand the democratic functions of the Union.”

However, it leaves it up to member states “to consider” whether or not to set up the fund in the first place.

Criminals who transfer their assets outside the EU will not be spared.

“If you have someone who is receiving income by committing crime and those assets are held in someone else’s name, now they can be seized,” said Macovei.

Safeguards included in the bill would allow incriminated people to challenge the seizure in a court.

MEPs had originally wanted to broaden the scope to other areas, for instance, people who have died, a provision backed by the European Commission, but rejected by some member states.

Both the parliament and member states have asked the Brussels-executive to study proposals that would allow police to grab the property even without a conviction.

Italy, Ireland, United Kingdom Bulgaria, and Slovakia already have jurisdictions with non-conviction based confiscation legislation.

The European Commission, for its part, welcomed the vote.

“Facilitating asset confiscation will hamper criminal activities and deter criminality by showing that crime does not pay,” said EU commissioner for home affairs Cecilia Malmstrom in a statement.

The bill has already made the rounds with member states and is now set for adoption before the European elections in May. The rules would not apply to the UK and Denmark, which have opt-outs in this part of EU law.