ECJ: ruling secures judicial access to loot

Status: October 21, 2021 6:32 p.m.

The judiciary can confiscate assets from convicts that come from other possible criminal offenses beyond the specific case. This means that criminals cannot secure their prey by passing it on to relatives.

According to a ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ), criminals cannot protect their prey from access to justice by transferring it to friends or relatives. As the Luxembourg judges found in a judgment, the alleged owners of the confiscated assets have the right to be heard in the criminal proceedings against the actual suspects (Az. C-845/19 and C-863/19).

Economic advantages from offense as a prerequisite

The judgment is based on two cases of illegal drug possession in Bulgaria. Following the conviction of the two Bulgarian nationals for possession of drugs, the public prosecutor’s office requested the confiscation of the sums of money found during the search of their home. However, the convicts said that the money belonged to family members. They could not comment on this in the proceedings because national regulations did not allow this. A Bulgarian court refused to confiscate the money because it did not believe that the convicts were guilty of selling drugs in addition to possessing drugs.

The public prosecutor challenged the court decision, the court of appeal asked the ECJ for clarifications on the application of the relevant EU legal provisions. The ECJ has now declared that judicial authorities can in principle also confiscate assets from convicted persons that come from suspected further criminal offenses beyond the specific case. The prerequisite, however, is that in the specific case the offender has been convicted of a crime from which economic benefits can arise and that the court is convinced that they have regularly made profits with it. However, if the suspects state that the assets found on them belong to bystanders, then, according to the ECJ, these third parties must be able to demonstrate their ownership structure in the criminal proceedings.

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