By Linda Karadaku
Kosovo’s government approved a draft law last week on the confiscation of property obtained through criminal offenses, in an effort to boost the fight against organised crime and corruption.
The ministry said the draft law will guarantee confiscation of property obtained through a criminal offence by extending the power of the courts.
“With this law the justice ministry enabled that in cases of persons sentenced for criminal offences such as organised crime and corruption, the court asks them to prove the legality of all ‘unclear’ property obtained after 2000,” Astrit Kolaj, chief spokesperson for the justice ministry, told SETimes.
Kolaj said that the person charged has to prove within 30 days that his property has been obtained legally; otherwise the property will be confiscated.
“The justice ministry draft law includes all Kosovo citizens, including those that serve in top positions, sectors, citizens of all social groups, who can be punished for committing criminal offences,” Kolaj said.
The justice ministry draft law also foresees the creation of a fund for the compensation of the victims. Any amount seized more than 10,000 euros, 10 percent will go to the victims’ compensation fund, and the rest to the state budget.
An NGO advisory forum criticised the draft on August 9th, saying it should also cover illegally obtained property, not only property obtained through criminal offences.
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“In such a form [as approved by the government], this law will pardon all persons who after the war and later have created a wealth but started from nothing. This draft law is seen more as a legalisation of illegally obtained properties,” the forum said in a statement.
Kolaj said it was impossible to include illegal obtainment of property in the law. “With such a procedure, every Kosovo citizen [would] be required to prove how they obtained every property they have, though they may not be accused of a criminal offence,” Kolaj said.
Granit Krasniqi, a Kosovo resident and an owner of a small Pristina-based business, said the system does not affect those in high-level positions.
“Illegally obtained property is taken away mainly from those that do not find themselves above the law [they may not be rich or powerful enough] to protect their illegally obtained property,” he told SETimes.
Sabit Halili, a Pristina merchant agreed. “Money, even when illegally obtained, brings power. Kosovo is high up on the corruption list,” he told SETimes.
The Kosovo Agency for the Administration of Sequestered and Confiscated Properties, founded in January 2010, deals with the administration of the sequestered and confiscated property, as part of the justice ministry.
According to Kosovo media, the agency has administered 1.1 million euros in confiscated property so far this year, and has added 111,000 euros to the state budget through the sale of the property.
Rahim Rama, the head of the agency, told the media that the confiscated property includes heavy machinery, jewellery, animals and other items. The agency held its last auction on August 7th when opened hundreds of kilograms of confiscated meat up for sale.
Peter Stano, spokesperson for the EU Commissioner Stefan Fule, said the effective use of confiscation measures is important in the fight against organised crime and corruption. The legal framework in the Western Balkans should allow and effectively order the confiscation of the proceeds from crime, he told SETimes.
“The commission monitors progress of the legislation adoption in confiscation of criminal assets and their implementation in the Western Balkans through its annual progress reports,” he said.