The AIRE Center and the RAI Secretariat, with the support of the United Kingdom Government, hosted a 2nd regional meeting with representatives of leading projects in the field of confiscation of illegally acquired property in the Western Balkans.
Participants highlighted the results achieved in the reform processes. Still, they noted that all countries in the region continue to share challenges in applying new mechanisms introduced to fight against corruption and organized crime.
“Jurisdictions across the Western Balkans are going through a significant alignment with international standards and good practice in the area of asset recovery. More effective cooperation among regional technical assistance providers will further support jurisdictions in the region, and help them to better plan and coordinate all current and future asset recovery needs and programmes. An Asset Recovery Platform, that we will launch online in all languages of the region, under the auspices of the project implemented by the AIRE Centre and the RAI Secretariat, will contribute to these efforts by bringing together resources, including legislation, training materials and publications, and making them easily accessible to practitioners in their languages.” shared Biljana Braithwaite, Program Director of the AIRE Center for the Western Balkans.
Braithwaite underlined the need for a continued increase of inter-regional cooperation and facilitating exchange of good practice amongst practitioners, bearing in mind that the countries of Western Balkans share similar problems in asset recovery activities.
“We need to support the development of effective legal and institutional frameworks, and implementation and application of new legislation and investigative approaches”, concludes Braithwaite.
Criminal Asset Recovery Advisor Jill Thomas shared an update on the Technical Assistance Projects overview in the Western Balkans.
By mapping regional asset recovery projects against asset recovery thematic areas, in-line with international and regional asset recovery standards and best practices, gaps can be identified for further asset recovery support to Western Balkan jurisdictions. This will avoid duplication of efforts and ensure a complementary approach by technical assistance providers.
“Asset recovery is on the policy agenda in all jurisdictions in the region. However, it is contained as an aspect within a mixture of strategies and not a specific focus. Not all jurisdictions in the WB have established or designated an ARO. Those that have still require support in bringing these offices to a good level of capacity and effectiveness”, shares Thomas.
Analysis reaffirms that there continues to be a high volume of financial investigation training in the region, also with a focus on asset tracing. Law enforcement and prosecutors still have difficulty in tracing assets and linking them to their beneficial owners.
“All 6 WB jurisdictions have introduced some form of extended confiscation in their laws. Support is still needed with understanding and the practical application of these new laws. All WB jurisdictions have some form of legislation to allow for the re-use of confiscated assets. However, further work is therefore needed to introduce more comprehensive and systematic laws and processes to provide for both state and social re-use across the whole region”, adds Thomas.
Further support is needed to ministries of justice, especially international cooperation departments in negotiating with their counterparts to conclude bi-lateral, multi-lateral and regional asset sharing agreements. Law enforcement officers and prosecutors still report that international asset recovery cooperation remains one of the most challenging aspects of successful confiscation.
“Analysis underlines that more support is needed in order to ensure operational inter-agency cooperation. On a strategic level, ideally, agencies should come together in a working group or committee to address asset recovery challenges”, concludes Thomas.
Desislava Gotskova, Head of the RAI Secretariat, emphasized the importance of good coordination between donor community, beneficiaries, and implementing partners in ensuring the effectiveness of the programs and projects implemented in the region.
“Regional cooperation is essential for the effective fight against corruption. RAI members from the Western Balkans and beyond, including Moldova and EU Member states Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania are committed to fighting corruption and organized crime in SEE together, as the best way forward”, concluded Gotskova.
Today the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the Council of Europe, DG NEAR of European Commission, Center for International Legal Cooperation (CILC), the OSCE, and several European Union projects related to this topics shared their experiences as leading project implementors in this area.