Over 100 judges, prosecutors and other experts from the Western Balkans attend the conference on recovery of illegally obtained assets
Published on: March 15, 2023

Sarajevo, March 15, 2023 ― Over 100 judges, prosecutors, professors and other experts from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Italy gathered today in Sarajevo for the conference “Effective Asset Recovery in the Western Balkans” organised by the AIRE Centre and the Regional Anti-Corruption Initiative, with the support from the UK Government. Corruption and organised crime continue to present one of the most widespread and intransigent challenges to the rule of law in the Western Balkans, and asset recovery, as part of the criminal process, is one of the most effective means of combating these crimes.

“It is our honour to gather such a large number of experts from regional courts, prosecutor’s offices and other institutions whose work contributes to effective asset recovery. Year after year, these meetings show how much we can do together, as they are an opportunity to plan joint steps and regional cooperation for the fight against organised crime and corruption. The Western Balkans has made enormous progress in legislating for asset recovery, but we continue to see significant problems when it comes to the implementation of these laws. Asset recovery is on the policy agenda in all judications in the region. However, it is contained as an aspect within a mixture of strategies and not a specific focus. In addition to this, it is necessary to continue to improve the capacity of both law enforcement and prosecutors who conduct financial investigations, since we are currently facing the problem of a lack of capacity and skills, not only within specialised units but across all criminal investigative and prosecutorial agencies”, said Nevena Kostić, project manager of the AIRE Centre.

“Nevertheless, the countries of the region have shown willingness to deal with these problems, and certain successes have significantly set them apart from many other regions in the world. For instance, there is a clear recognition at political level of all the countries of the Western Balkans for the need to officially designate a national asset recovery office and jurisdictions have this firmly as a focus, albeit at varying stages. In addition, social reuse of confiscated assets has been recognised as a positive approach within the region, and Albania and Serbia have already shown how this can be implemented in practice”, added Kostić.

Special investigative measures and financial investigations, social reuse of confiscated assets and crypto assets are just some of the topics that practitioners will have the opportunity to discuss at this conference.

“Participants will learn about the latest asset recovery developments in the Western Balkans, about the European Court of Human Rights jurisprudence on the assets acquired through crimes, about social reuse of confiscated assets and crypto assets. Both the project and the alumni network are a leading example of regional cooperation at its best and the Regional Anti-Corruption Initiative will continue to support the practitioners in South East Europe in their efforts in the prevention and combating of corruption and organised crime”, said Desislava Gotskova, head of Regional Anti-Corruption Initiative Secretariat.

This event also provided an opportunity to present the latest research on good practices concerning effective asset recovery. The study “Social reuse of confiscated assets” analyses this growing practice and highlights some of the benefits of social reuse as a means of asset disposal, both for the victims of serious and organised crime, and for society more generally. Furthermore, the publication “Special investigative actions as an integral part of financial investigations of criminal acts of corruption and organised crime” provides an overview of special investigative actions, their classification and standards, and indicates the possibilities and significance of these types of investigative techniques for conducting financial investigations.

The AIRE Centre and the Regional Anti-Corruption Initiative, with the support from the UK Government, bring together key regional asset recovery experts every year to encourage their communication, dialogue and cooperation, and to contribute to the consistent application of relevant international standards.

In 2020 these organisations established a regional network of practitioners in order to facilitate their communication and exchange of good practice, present latest research and findings concerning asset recovery in Western Balkans and foster ideas and initiatives to strengthen the rule of law and fight organised crime and corruption.

“Organised crime and corruption are key obstacles to prosperity and the rule of law. Seizing assets of criminals is a vital part of undermining the business model of criminals and corrupt politicians. We need to share knowledge, skills and expertise to bring criminals to justice and hit them where it hurts the most – their wealth. Many jurisdictions have updated their Criminal Codes and Criminal Procedures. And others are on their way to doing so. The majority of jurisdictions have also established separate asset recovery legislation based on international standards. These are positive steps, and the UK and other members of the International Community will do our best to help you to finish building the necessary architecture of legislation, procedures and tools”, said Julian Reilly, ambassador of the United Kingdom to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“The Annual Alumni Conference on Effective Asset Recovery taking place today and tomorrow has brought together these professionals who are engaged in the project to share their expertise and knowledge. The event is dedicated to highlighting our common successes, reflecting on new trends, and discussing future anti-corruption initiatives. The Conference enables the continuation of regional dialogue promoting learning, the sharing of experiences and best practice by practitioners from the South East Europe region”, explained Gotskova.

The President of the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council of BiH, Halil Lagumdžija, thanked the organisers of the conference who recognised the importance of the effective asset recovery, and informed the attendees of the activities undertaken by the HJPC of BiH when it comes to this topic, such as the adoption of the special module within the Court Management System, that will selectively record and maintain statistical data on seized and confiscated assets and the Guideline for Chief Prosecutors for issuing a binding instruction prescribing the obligation of prosecutors to conduct a financial investigation when conducting an investigation in cases of corruption, organised crime and money laundering.

We are aware that public expectations are high when it comes to the work of prosecutors’ offices and courts. The fight against corruption, organised and economic crime is still in the focus of both the local public and the international community, our partner that supports judicial reform in BiH”, said Lagumdžija. He also pointed out the importance of reviewing the current way of working, improving procedures and, in general, a more determined fight against this type of crime. “Expectations are high, and so is the pressure on prosecutors to improve not only the quantity but also the quality of their work”, said Lagumdžija.

The regional conference “Effective Asset Recovery in the Western Balkans” was held as part of the project “Combating corruption and organised crime in the Western Balkans through strengthening regional cooperation in asset recovery”, implemented by the AIRE Centre and Regional Anti-Corruption Initiative – RAI and supported by the UK Government. Find out more at Asset Recovery Platform.