Prishtina, Kosovo – | 17 April 2021 (Tirana Echo) – Kosovo’s new government has approved proposals this week for the creation of a national non-prosecutorial agency which will seize all unexplained wealth assets in the new Balkan state, bypassing current legal provisions and justice institutions.
The proposal was unveiled by Kosovo’s new PM Albin Kurti this week who confirmed through a video message that his government intends to bring to parliament legislation for the creation of a new independent agency which will be tasked to seize all unexplained wealth accumulated through illegal means without needing a court order anymore.
“The new law aims at paving the way for a new non-prosecutorial agency which will be tasked with fighting organized crime and confiscation of illegal and unjustified wealth. This agency will be independent and will investigate unjustified wealth in civilian matters,” said Kurti in his message.
While many commentators, including EU representatives have expressed concerns over the powers of the new agency and the seizure of wealth without a court order, Kurti has pointed out that this agency will resemble those in the UK, Ireland, Slovenia, Germany, Italy or in Bulgaria which have been successful at tackling organized crime assets.
Kurti has referred to the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) which was established following the Criminal Finances Act 2017, which can obtain Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWO) against PEPs and individuals involved in serious crime outside the EEA and individuals who are, or are connected to those, involved in serious crime. The NCA has targeted the London property market lately.
However, the NCA has to obtain authorization (UWO) from the English High Court by showing that there are “reasonable grounds” to suspect that the respondent’s known lawfully obtained income would be insufficient to allow the respondent to obtain the relevant property; and that the respondent is, or is connected to, an individual who is involved in serious crime or a PEP outside the EEA.
Kurti pointed out that until now, the seizure of unexplained wealth has been subject to a court order and legislated through three pillars in Kosovo, that of the penal code, the code of penal procedure and the law on extended powers for wealth confiscation.
The new proposals aim at bypassing the justice system in order to grant confiscation powers to the new executive agency, arguing that the current judiciary is corrupt and not willing to act fast enough to tackle organized crime.
It is unclear on what basis the new agency will seize assets of Kosovan citizens without due process, but the PM confirmed that once assets have been seized, justice can have its say and judge whether the measures were justified or not.
Following the approval of the proposals at the council of ministers meeting, Kosovo’s Justice Minister Albulena Haxhiu said this is the “right step ahead in tackling organized crime and corruption which are stalling Kosovo’s development.”
However, the law is expected to provoke widespread debates in Kosovo’s society.
Ehat Miftaraj of the Kosovo Institute for Justice said this is not the right moment for such proposals.
“It would have been a good initiative if we had a truly independent and fair justice system. Unfortunately Kosovo has a prosecutorial and justice system which is not capable to exercise competences according to the law. Therefore without a proper vetting process of the justice system, without cleaning up the system, this initiative is too rushed,” Miftaraj told the Voice of America.
Kosovo is Europe’s newest state with its independence declared in 2008 from Serbia. The small Balkan country suffers from endemic corruption while it hopes to eventually join NATo and the European Union.
According to the 2020 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, Kosovo rated 104 out of 180 countries with a total score of 36/100.
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