Anti-corruption law with no retroactive effect

Lawmakers backpedal on extraordinary ACCIAF powers; put them to wide public discussion

The Anti-Corruption and Illegal Assets Forfeiture Act will not have a retroactive effect, the National Assembly’s Committee on Legal Affairs decided with overwhelming majority during the second-reading vote of the proposed amendments. This change to the regulatory act came following a Supreme Court of Cassation (SCC) interpretive ruling engineered by the court’s chairperson Lozan Panov, who was aided by some of his colleagues. The ruling essentially blocked the work of the Anti-Corruption Commission for Illegal Assets Forfeiture (ACCIAF) and threatened to create grounds for the termination of numerous illegal assets forfeiture cases.

At its session, the parliamentary committee adopted texts designed to clean up the mess created by the SCC ruling but, at the same time, gave up other texts that carried the risk of causing more problems, including the implementation of a “perpetual auditor” status.

And so, the lawmakers adopted a text stipulating that illegal assets forfeiture cases are not tied to criminal proceedings, meaning that even if the latter are terminated, the former can continue. Therefore, the ACCIAF will be able to file illegal assets forfeiture claims with the court even when the criminal proceedings have been terminated. However, another proposed change, which had been adopted at first reading, was dropped – the one envisioning putting the amendments retroactively into force from 23 January 2018. The idea for scrapping the text was tabled by its original proponent – the head of the parliamentary Committee on Legal Affairs Danail Kirilov – and was approved unanimously.

“Not having the act enforced retroactively is not such a problem but it will come as a bonus for the individuals the criminal proceedings against whom are confirmed as terminated before the act takes effect; they will just get lucky,” explained Plamen Georgiev, head of the ACCIAF. He also said that the Commission has appealed the decision to drop the illegal assets proceedings against former MP Hristo Biserov, meaning that the decision has not come into effect. If the court ruling does not come into force prior to the act being promulgated, the state will cease BGN 2m worth of Biserov’s property. Otherwise, the forfeiture will not happen.

The parliamentary committee also decided not to amend texts concerning the maximum periods within which the ACCIAF is obligated to carry out its inspections. The idea is to wait for the second SCC interpretive ruling, which will focus on these timeframes and whether they are instructive or binding.

“The proposed maximum periods for completing inspections were withdrawn in order to wait and see the SCC’s interpretive ruling. The court may interpret the law in line with its spirit, this is its task, after all” Georgiev said.

Meanwhile, the parliamentary committee decided not to consider at first reading the second bill for amendments to the anti-corruption act, opting to put them to public debate instead. The proposed changes include numerous texts expanding ACCIAF’s powers, including the idea of no statute of limitations – the clock for the maximum time within which legal proceedings may be launched would stop ticking the moment the Commission opens an investigation. There was also an option for arming ACCIAF officers, introducing a special statute for their vehicles on the road, and right to seal premises and areas. Such powers, however, carry a considerable risk of turning ACCIAF into a body with unchecked authority, similar to the Lenin-era secret-police Cheka commissions, and will therefore surely be changed when the bill is put to a wide public discussion.

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