The state budget should collect approximately one billion euro as a result of DNA probes, National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) Chief Prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi stated on Tuesday.
“In the last five years, DNA prosecutors have seized assets worth over two billion euro (…) against the backdrop in which the budget earmarked for the carrying out of investigations totalled 2 to 2.7 million euro. (…) In the cases in which judges issued final convictions they also ordered confiscation, and in the last five years 992 court rulings have remained final in cases in which the courts were notified through DNA indictments and passed rulings on the confiscation and recovery of proceeds of crime in excess of one billion euro. So, basically, we’re talking about one billion euro, money that must actually enter the state budget, as a result of investigations carried out by the DNA,” Kovesi stated on Tuesday, during a conference on the recovery of proceeds of crime.
She pointed out that the stage of identifying and freezing the assets has been completed and the stage in which judges have issued final rulings in DNA dossiers and have ordered the confiscation of one billion euro has been reached. Kovesi stated that one must ask whether these rulings are being enforced or not and what are the impediments in case they are not.
Kovesi stated that one must bear in mind the specificity of the investigations handled by the DNA, namely investigations that concern high-level corruption, persons who hold important offices or who have “impressive wealth,” and that is why the expectations are higher when it comes to the recovery of the proceeds of crime.
“From this standpoint, we, as DNA prosecutors, have carried out our prerogatives, (…) from now on it is the prerogative of the financial bodies. Two or three years ago we were monitoring the percentage of these rulings actually enforced, it was somewhere in the ballpark of 10-11 percent, but let’s imagine what could be done with one billion euro in Romania, if the money were to be actually confiscated, because these are final court rulings whose power is that of the law, so it’s not up for discussion whether we want to enforce them or not,” the DNA Chief Prosecutor added.
She pointed out that there is talk of the fact that these rulings are not enforced because prosecutors did not properly place the liens or because the value of the assets has dropped in the meantime.
“At least with the former argument I cannot agree, because when the judges judge the dossier, they also verify the legality of the measures ordered by prosecutors. When we ordered the confiscation of a certain sum of money and we have a final ruling, we can no longer doubt whether a lien was enforced legally or not,” Kovesi added.
She also pointed out that defendants also tend to open bank accounts abroad.
“When we talk about the freezing of assets, we didn’t limit ourselves only to the assets located on Romanian territory. In recent years we’ve noticed an extremely interesting trend, namely that the defendants use to hide their assets abroad or offshore, or to buy properties on the territory of other states or to leave entirely. The financial investigations compartment that was set up within the DNA in 2015 has covered this issue too, because 2016 was the first year in which the DNA also seized assets located on the territory of other states. Two properties worth over 3.5 million euro were seized in France, two houses worth over 500,000 euro were seized in Spain, and, likewise, certain bank accounts were frozen in Cyprus, Switzerland and Germany,” Kovesi said.
In what concerns the enforcement of final court rulings, the DNA Chief Prosecutor said that one must bear in mind that prosecutors seize houses, bank accounts, jewels, valuable paintings, gold bars, items that do not lose their value and can be put to good use relatively fast.
“While in past years we were talking about final court rulings that were issued after 5-6-7 years, now we have final court rulings, situations in which dossiers are tried in one year, two years, a relatively brief period considering that they also entail appeals. We have reached the point in which the state must collect one billion euro, from DNA investigations alone, I’m convinced DIICOT prosecutors have seized sums just as high, and so did the prosecutors from the other prosecution structures. We have reached the point when we must see what we need so that these rulings are definitively enforced,” Kovesi added.
She pointed out that Romania has a legislation that is sufficiently clear and predictable in her view in what concerns the recovery of proceeds of crime, extended confiscation, however the reason the money is not actually collected at the state budget has to do with the actual way the court rulings are enforced.
“After that, these rulings are sent to the Finance Ministry, to the institutions who have the prerogative to enforce them. I believe these institutions must come up and state what is the problem that they have when it comes to identifying all court rulings, to actually enforcing them, to selling these houses,” Kovesi added.
She added that for some time now the institutions that have prerogatives in seizing illegally obtained assets have asked themselves how they could end up recovering more money.
“I remember that we had this discussion three or four years ago – how could we confiscate more and seize more? And the experience of recent years shows that we have managed up to now. But let’s see what happens with the money seized and confiscated by justice. When we talk about the recovery of proceeds of crime we must bear in mind that conviction is not the only thing that may lead to the prevention of corruption crimes. And lately it seems the recovery of the proceeds of crime and the confiscation of illegally obtained sums does more to reach this result,” Kovesi added.
The DNA Chief Prosecutor pointed out that the element that changed the approach when it comes to confiscating assets in Romania was the introduction of extended confiscation in 2012.
“Of course, this is 2018, the results are probably not spectacular, however we must bear in mind the Constitutional Court decision that established that this law cannot generate retroactive effects, so then that period of five years starts at a certain moment,” the DNA Chief Prosecutor added.
Kovesi stated that both as Prosecutor General and especially as DNA Chief Prosecutor she always considered that the recovery of the proceeds of crime is a priority.
“When I took over as Chief Prosecutor we planned to set up a compartment for financial investigations, which became operational in 2015. It’s a compartment made up of police officers, specialists, coordinated by a prosecutor. This compartment’s main prerogative is to double the criminal investigation with a financial investigation, in order to identify the assets and values that can be seized,” Kovesi added.