Officials with Hidden Assets Will Count the Days Until Statute of Limitations -Time also plays for millionaires


Author: Tina Popović (Daily Vijesti)

The draft law on the prevention of corruption stipulates that procedures for determining the violation of its provisions cannot be initiated after a period of five years from the day of the violation.
The Network for Affirmation of the Non-Governmental Sector (MANS) states that this absolves both former and future officials who hide their real assets and incomes, but also signals to them that they will avoid consequences if they can hide their illegal actions long enough.
All public officials who manage to “escape” the authorities for five years due to hiding assets will not be held accountable after that period.
Those who have violated the Law on the Prevention of Corruption before the potential enactment of the new regulation will also be absolved.
The draft Law on the Prevention of Corruption proposes that procedures for determining the violation of its provisions – preventing conflicts of interest, gifts, sponsorships, donations, and declarations of incomes and assets of public officials “cannot be initiated after a period of five years from the day of the violation.”
“This essentially means that there will be no accountability for Milo Đukanović, Veselin Veljović, Vesna Medenica, Miomir Mugoša, Ivan Brajović, and many other high public officials who have hidden their assets. Such a legal solution is directly contrary to the elementary principles of the rule of law and the process of European integration, and therefore, the excuses that it is adopted to obtain the positive response to Interim Benchmark Assessment Report (IBAR) are utterly hypocritical,” said Vanja Ćalović Marković, director of MANS, to “Vijesti”.
She emphasized that the Draft law, which proposes a statute of limitations in the case of false asset declaration, represents “a great disappointment and shows a lack of political will for a real fight against corruption.”
“Legal solutions that absolve corrupt officials were not even dared to be proposed by the previous regime, and now we have seen it from the new government that claimed it would fight corruption and crime. Such amendments to the law essentially introduce amnesty for all those officials who have hidden millions of euros gained from corruption and submitted false data in their asset declarations,” said Ćalović Marković.
Encouraging Illegal Behavior
MANS has also warned the Ministry of Justice, which led the drafting of the amendments to the Law on the Prevention of Corruption.
They pointed out that such a provision did not exist in the Law that has been in effect since 2016.
From this NGO, it was explained that this is the “most problematic article of the Draft, as it unjustifiably introduces a statute of limitations of only five years in the case of law violations by public officials who have previously hidden their assets or incomes.”
“It is an unjustifiably short limitation. Such a short time limitation for the statute of limitations can be unjustifiable, especially considering the complexity of discovering financial irregularities and hiding assets. Complex cases of corruption and asset hiding often require a long time to uncover, especially if they involve international transactions or complex financial schemes,” warned Ćalović Marković.
Such a provision, she believes, would encourage illegal behavior.
“By setting a short statute of limitations period, there is a risk of sending a message to public officials that, if they can hide their illegal actions long enough, they will avoid legal consequences. This can encourage corrupt behavior and reduce the effectiveness of the legislative framework in the fight against corruption. It also prevents the recovery of public funds that may have been illegally appropriated, thereby harming the public budget,” emphasizes Ćalović Marković.
Selective Enforcement
Extended statute of limitations periods, she warns, especially in the context of a history of selective enforcement by both directors of the Agency, would mean that accountability would not be established even after a change in the leadership of the Agency.
“This would allow individuals to rely on the statute of limitations to avoid investigations or sanctions. A short statute of limitations period favors certain individuals or groups, namely absolves all officials who have hidden their incomes or assets before 2019 and have not been prosecuted by the Agency. The practice of selective enforcement indicates the necessity of strengthening control and oversight mechanisms within the Agency. Extended periods of limitation could provide enough time for such mechanisms to be established and applied, ensuring that no case of corruption or illegal behavior remains uninvestigated due to procedural limitations,” said Ćalović Marković.
According to her, adopting this provision will signal to the public that concrete measures to fight corruption are not being taken.
“…Instead, officials of the previous regime who have hidden their assets are being absolved. Such a short statute of limitations shows a lack of political will to fight corruption, which will further erode citizens’ trust in the rule of law and justice. Also, international organizations and experts on fighting corruption advocate for stricter measures regarding financial crime, including longer periods for the statute of limitations. Setting a five-year statute of limitations is contrary to these recommendations and best practices, potentially compromising the international image of the country in terms of fighthing corruption”, concluded Ćalović Marković.

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