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June 27, 2022

Boc: Opposition bill, ‘half a step’ towards confiscation of proceeds of crime

Yesterday, the Cabinet was set to discuss the proposal of the Ministry of Justice regarding the extended asset confiscation. The PM also said that Opposition ‘defies democracy’ by not supporting the president’s constitutional review.

PM Emil Boc yesterday said the bill initiated by the opposition on the confiscation of proceeds of crime was just ‘half of a step’ taken in that direction, because it is not particularly meant to deal with assets produced by corruption of economic-financial criminal offences.

‘These two practical things void the extended confiscation procedure of substance’. Boc said during a constitutional review debate organised by the Deputy Speaker of the Senate and ex Justice Minister, Cristian Diaconescu, according to Mediafax. The premier believes that, only in that way can we claim to have a country ‘with European legislation implemented in the public’s best interest rather than in the politicians’ interest’. In the context, he noted that, during its weekly meeting scheduled to take place yesterday, the Executive was going to discuss the draft law introducing the extended confiscation of proceeds of crime, submitted by the Ministry of Justice (MJ). MJ put the bill up for pubic debate, with the argument that existing legislation in the field has proved insufficient in ensuring an effective cross-border co-operation in that respect.

On the other hand, Emil Boc accused the opposition of disregarding national interest and defying democracy by not endorsing the changing of the Constitution during the current term of the Parliament. ‘If the opposition, whatever it may be, always said <not now, let’s put this off until the next term>, we would never have a reviewed Constitution which is needed from time to time’, Boc said. According to the PM, capping public deficit and government debt by Constitution was necessary ‘as a defence against any kind of populist policies trying to purchase votes using tax-payers’ money’.

Also attending the event, Justice Minister Catalin Predoiu said legally acquired assets must be hedged by safeguards, but the proceeds of crime must be recovered by the Government, and only a performing justice system can guarantee that the two categories of wealth can be thoroughly distinguished. In his view, it is absolutely necessary that the Government provides logistic conditions and the Superior Magistracy Council (CSM) and the Public Ministry provide appropriate professional training in order to offer together to the public the guarantee that the state’s criminal policy in the area of crime proceeds recovery only touches criminals, and not wealthy, yet innocent citizens. ‘Collateral damages in the matter would lead to an injustice comparable with the one caused in the communist snatch and this is why we need to prepare the judiciary thoroughly to use the new instruments’, Predoiu said. He also noted that the presumed legal nature of wealth can no longer operate as an absolute guarantee. ‘This is what the European framework directive indicates. (…) All official statistics and assessment reports lead to two main conclusions: Romania has built a solid and modern framework for combating corruption and seize proceeds of crime; despite such framework, the recovery of the money and assets resulting from or purchased with money obtained from criminal activities is still extremely low’, said the minister.

Prosecutor General Laura Codruta Kovesi in turn said the extended confiscation procedure was very necessary in Romania, as well. ‘As for the extended confiscation issue, we see situations where people committing corruption offences are willing to serve time in orison, knowing that, sooner or later, they will be released to their cars, houses and other properties acquired as a result of their criminal activity’, Kovesi said.

Gitenstein: it is a promising thing that the power and the opposition are making proposals for the constitution

US Ambassador in Bucharest Mark Gitenstein said that the American Government was very attentive to two of the provisions in the draft constitutional review: the one on the confiscation of the proceeds of crime and the one on legislative immunity, both being related to corruption and the rule of law. ‘The true question when you think about article 44 or the legislative amendment is that in the US, UK, Hungary and in most of the EU states there is a presumption of innocence. You cannot just go and seize someone’s property. (…). (…) The presumption is that whatever property you may have, you own that legally. The true problem for a prosecutor is the amount of evidence considered enough to allow for property to be confiscated. In the US, the amount of evidence is quite low – probable cause’, said Gitenstein.
With regard to the importance of the separation of powers, the ambassador found that, by virtue of the principle, there has to be a consensus between the Parliament and the Constitutional Court when the two are on distinct positions. The US official said it was a promising thing that the power and the opposition were making proposals for the amending the Constitution, the diplomat stressing out that the two sides need to co-operate in order for the Constitution to be adopted by the Parliament. ‘I encourage both parties not to turn this subject into a critical one. I equally encourage the Parliament and the Constitutional Court to find a common ground’. Ambassador Gitenstein further said that, in the framework of the 2005 JHA Directive, it would be for the Parliament to decide if Romania will be the only country left in the EU not to implement the directive. Obviously, US investors would not find that to be a good decision’, he added.

Ponta: ‘if they don’t like our law, we will vote for theirs, but we will enforce it, too’

PSD leader Victor Ponta yesterday said the Social-Democrats would vote for PDL’s bill on the confiscation of the proceeds of crime even if his party had tabled a similar law, in order to demonstrate that the Constitution doesn’t need to be amended to achieve the same result. However, he warned that PSD was going to enforce the law. ‘If they don’t like our law, we will vote for the law initiated by the Boc Government, but – PDL, watch out! – we are going to enforce it, too,’ said Ponta. Moreover, the Social-Democrat claims that, by drafting such a bill, the Ministry of Justice and the Government were only finding PSD right, admitting that the Constitution does not need amending in that respect.

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