Bosnia Urged to Use Property Seized From Criminals

Bosnia needs to better regulate the destination of properties seized as a consequence of criminal activities, experts say, adding that this would also help fighting organised crime.

BIH parlament

While no law defines this issue at national level, laws exists at the level of the country’s two entities, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska. These enable the governments of the entities to take possession of properties acquired as a consequence of criminal activities.

However, the laws have never been properly implemented, Ivana Korajlic, the spokesperson of the watchdog organisation Transparency International in Bosnia, told BIRN.

“In Republika Srpska a law exists and there is also an agency which should manage these properties”, Korajlic explained. He blamed the lack of results on deficiencies in the courts in the entity. “Tribunals in the RS work extremely slowly, so they usually they need a lot of time before approving a final verdict establishing the seizure of criminally acquired properties,” Korajlic said. “Another problem is that RS authorities work too slowly when they have to freeze properties of persons accused of criminal activities, so that often they manage to sell or transfer them to other persons and avoid seizure,” Korajlic added. Korajlic noted that although the Federation entity approved a similar law in 2014, it has never been enforced.

“In the past two years, this law has never been applied in any concrete proceedings,” the office of the Federation’s Law Attorneys confirmed to BIRN on Wednesday. From 2003 to 2015, tribunals in the Federation ordered the seizure of properties worth 7.5 million euros, according to the TV network Al Jazeera Balkans. But the authorities of the entity did not pursue the seizures.

The agency that should manage these properties has been established but, as its director Kenan Kapo told BIRN, is still not operational. “Our agency still lacks experts, as well as space for its offices,” Kapo said, adding that he felt confident “that we will start our activities by the end of 2016.”

To foster the development of this agency, as part of an action promoted by the UK, Bosnia’s authorities have been able to work with experts from Italy who completed a four-day visit to Sarajevo on Thursday.

“As a country that has been fighting mafia for decades, Italy has developed a system for the reutilisation of properties seized from organised crime, which has proven to be really effective”, Umberto Postiglione, director of the Italian National Agency for the Destination of Properties Seized from Organised Criminal Groups, told BIRN.

Postiglione noted that in 2015, the Italian government returned more than 3,800 properties to civil society with a total value of several hundred thousand euros. Among these properties were dozens of supermarkets taken from Cosa Nostra, a mafia group operating in Sicily. After the properties were seized, the Agency donated 33 heavy duty vehicles to the local fire brigade and subcontracted the shops to a foreign company. The money from their rents goes directly to the Italian government.

“Although Bosnia still has to build its own mechanism”, Postiglione concluded, “improving this capacity is crucial to fight criminals who tend to hide also by caching their properties.”


7 April 2016