Tag Archives: organized crime

2011 Reports for Bulgaria and Romania under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism

The European Commission has published its fifth progress reports for Bulgaria and Romania under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) for 2011. The reports monitor the progress of the two Member States on progress with judicial reform, the fight against corruption and, concerning Bulgaria, the fight against organized crime.

The report on Bulgaria notes that Bulgaria has strengthened the Supreme Judicial Council and improved rules for the appointment, professional training, appraisals and promotions of judges. Several organised crime and corruption cases have reached verdicts in court. At the same time, an increased number of indictments in cases related to organised crime and fraud with EU funds have been achieved. The report notes that the leadership of the Bulgarian judiciary has yet to show a real commitment to thorough judicial reform as slow progress is not just the result of shortcomings in judicial practice and in the Penal Code. Again and again the Commission points out that judicial appointments still lack the necessary level of transparency and credibility. The report also notes that there is a lack of consistent disciplinary practice in the judiciary. The Commission sees weaknesses in the collection of evidence, the protection of witnesses as well as in investigative strategies, comprehensive financial investigations and the securing of assets. The Commission recommends that coordination within the prosecution and between the prosecution and the police should be improved. The most important recommendation of the Commission is to establish proposals for a reform of the Supreme Judicial Council, the Supreme Cassation Prosecution Office and the Prosecution in general regarding structures, legal attributions, composition, appointments and internal organization.

The report on Romania points to the significant steps Romania took since the last annual report of July 2010. Romania improved judicial efficiency, re-established the legal basis of the National Integrity Agency, continued preparations for the implementation of the four new codes, launched preparations for a functional review of the judicial system and carried out an impact analysis of its anti-corruption policy. At the same time, the report also notes that consistency and results in a number of areas remain a challenge and that progress in the fight against corruption still needs to be pursued. The report concludes that Romania needs to take urgent action to accelerate high-level corruption trials and to prevent their prescription due to expiry of statute-barred periods. The fight against corruption should remain a top priority, with support from Parliament, and urgent measures should be taken to improve the recovery of proceeds of crime, the pursuit of money laundering and the protection against conflict of interest in the management of public funds.

 

 

The (Un)Importance of the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism

The new set of reports under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) for Bulgaria and Romania were published by the Commission. The mechanism is used by the Commission to monitor the progress of both countries in the fields of judicial reform, corruption and organised crime. But does the mechanism matter?

It’s difficult to say. The CVM was an instrument used to extend conditionality beyond the accession date for Bulgaria and Romania. For three years after the accession the EU could impose safeguard clauses, including a specific safeguard clause in the area of justice and home affairs (art. 36 of the Accession Treaty). However, this period has expired. It the strict sense of the word CVM is no longer a conditionality instrument. Eli Gateva has written a very good paper on this, explaining that the absence of accession rewards combined with toothless explicit threats for sanctioning non-compliance produce very weak negative incentive structure.

On the other hand both the Bulgarian and Romanian governments pay attention to the recommendations in the reports and at least try to act on them. One reason for this can be the difficulty of acceding to the Schengen area. Both France and Germany have linked the two issues, although they are not legally dependent. So one may argue that the accession to the Schengen area is now a new conditionality tool, used to push reforms of the judiciary in Bulgaria and Romania.

There is also another interpretation – that “old” Member States have given up hope of achieving effective structural reforms of the judiciary in Bulgaria and Romania, and are trying to mitigate the damage by denying access to the Schengen area. This strategy will fail. Neglecting the structural deficits of law enforcement and the judiciary in Bulgaria and Romania can have wide-ranging implications for the whole European Union. It is not possible to “isolate” both countries in some sort of a triage. Their weaknesses impact negatively the overall security of the EU, and of the separate Member States.

That is why the CVM is still useful – at least as an instrument for diagnosis.

 

 

What is Going on in Bulgaria, Really?

Taped conversations, published by a Bulgarian newspaper, allegedly expose a cover-up of smuggling schemes by the Bulgarian Minister of the Interior, Tzvetan Tzvetanov. The full transcripts of the tapes reveal pressure on part of Tsvetanov on Customs Agency Director Vanyo Tanov, who complains that Tsvetanov and the Ministry of the Interior are pressing him and his staff not to check on potential abuses by certain large companies, and to focus instead on others. The only company mentioned by name which has allegedly benefited from this protection is Lukoil Bulgaria (a daughter company of the Russian Lukoil conglomerate). The CEO of Lukoil Bulgaria is allegedly a close friend of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov. According to the leaked US embassy cable on organized crime in Bulgaria, Lukoil’s Bulgarian operations are suspected of strong ties to Russian intelligence and organized crime.

A caveat must be made: nobody has confirmed the authenticity of the tapes. The content is not conclusive and is subject to interpretation.

In any case this is worrying. Until now the Customs Agency Director has not denied the contents of the conversations.

In the light of these revelations the reservations of France and Germany over Bulgaria’s accession to the Schengen area appear more justified. The Prime Minister must take really decisive steps to dispel any suspicion of wrongdoing.

 

 

Report: Security Threats Come Mainly from Abroad

Statewatch has published a restricted access report by EUROPOL, EUROJUST and FRONTEX on the state of internal security in the European Union. A selection of the findings (I have underlined some sections):

  • The affluent consumer base and open business environment of the EU makes the region particularly vulnerable;
  • Organised crime is growing in scale and sophistication;
  • The number of terrorist attacks in the EU is declining but both violent separatist groups and Islamist extremists remain active and pose a clear threat to internal security;
  • Most threats to internal security are generated outside the EU. Africa, South Asia, the Former Soviet Union, and the Western Balkans carry particular significance;
  • Key hubs in and around the external border of the EU have developed as the principal staging posts for the inward flow of illicit goods and people;
  • Border security is compromised by groups exploiting vulnerabilities in the transport sector;
  • The threat from cyber crime is multi-dimensional, targeting citizens, businesses, and governments at a rapidly growing rate;
  • European citizens and businesses are increasingly exposed to systematic violence and corruption at the hands of organised crime groups, terrorist groups, and, increasingly, street gangs.

2010 Reports for Bulgaria and Romania under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism

The European Commission has published its progress reports for Bulgaria and Romania under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM). The reports monitor the progress of the two Member states on progress with judicial reform, the fight against corruption and, concerning Bulgaria, the fight against organized crime.

Both reports say that further assistance and monitoring by the Commission is needed to support the reform processes in Bulgaria and Romania until all benchmarks are fulfilled and the CVM can be repealed. In other words the monitoring will continue for an undetermined period of time.

The reports for both countries are quite critical. For Bulgaria the report seems to underscore the fact that noisy police actions do not necessarily transform into successful convictions. For Romania the main criticism is directed against the new amendments of the law on the National Integrity Agency.

The report on Bulgaria notes a strong reform momentum which has been established in Bulgaria since the Commission’s last annual report in July 2009. The Commission believes that there is strong political will in the Bulgarian government to achieve a deep and lasting reform of the judiciary. According to the report Bulgaria has adopted important reforms of its penal procedures. Bulgaria has increased its efforts to fight against high-level corruption. Bulgaria has also stepped up efforts by carrying out a number of police raids on organised crime groups although little judicial follow-up to these raids has been reported. However, the report notes that the judicial process in Bulgaria lacks initiative and professional capacity. Complex investigations show a lack of direction and purpose, procedures are too formal and too long and often fail in court. The implementation of the conflict of interest law is insufficiently effective. Shortcomings in the implementation of public procurement procedures are widespread.

The Commission points to important shortcomings in Romania’s efforts to achieve progress under the CVM. Romania did not show sufficient political commitment to support and provide direction to the reform process and demonstrated a degree of unwillingness within the leadership of the judiciary to cooperate and take responsibility. Judicial reform has shown important progress with Parliamentary adoption of the Civil and Criminal Procedural Codes. The National Integrity Agency (ANI) was able to demonstrate a further consolidation of its capacity and track record regarding the identification of unjustified wealth, incompatibilities and conflicts of interest. However, the amendments to the law on the National Integrity Agency voted on 30 June 2010 represent a serious step back.

Second Amendment of the Cotonou Agreement

The second amendment of the Cotonou Agreement with the African, Caribbean and Pacific states has been signed. The Cotonou Agreement constitutes the foundation of the special relationship between the EU and ACP nations. It is aimed at reducing and eventually eradicating poverty as well as at sustainable development and the gradual integration of the ACP states into the world economy.

The changes include strengthened provisions against the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, as well as provisions against organized crime and trafficking of human beings, drugs and weapons. There are new procedures for assistance to ACP states for adapting to global warming and for integrating climate change into their development strategies, as well as improved support to the aquaculture and fisheries sectors in ACP states and to the fight against HIV/AIDS.

For a critical assessment see the briefing paper of the CONCORD Cotonou Working Group.

New Bulgarian Special Criminal Court?

There are news that the government is planning to introduce new, specialized courts for money laundering, kidnapping, human trafficking, organized criminal groups, EU funds fraud.

So far, so good. But the government introduced its plans to a very small group of experts, without inviting some leading NGOs. The leader of the far-right “Ataka” party harassed the representative of the “Open Society” institute and said that its founder, George Soros, is a criminal.

This does not bode well for the draft legislation. I will study the issue carefully.