By Elizabeth Hearst
Proposed legislation in Malta will give powers to the country’s Asset Recovery Bureau to confiscate assets without a criminal conviction in an attempt to crack down on “dirty money”.
The legislation brought forward by Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis will see additional measures given to law enforcement and asset recovery teams to file civil proceedings for the confiscation of assets that have been procured through the proceeds of crime.
The law will also see the burden of proof shifted onto the individual to provide evidence that the asset seized was acquired legitimately. As a civil case, the courts will not have to be convinced beyond reasonable doubt but rather determine the outcome based on probability.
In an interview with MaltaToday, the Minister said that the legislation will be a breakthrough in the fight against organised crime and money laundering.
The law will also give additional powers to the bureau who will be able to implement legal proceedings against an asset, where the owner cannot be found or is abroad. “In this case, the ARB may have reasonable suspicion that a particular asset is a proceed of crime but its owner cannot be traced or is abroad, and so it will be empowered to act against the asset itself,” added Zammit Lewis.
Current Maltese legislation allows the ARB to seize and preserve an asset owing to a criminal case, however they may not confiscate the asset until all criminal proceedings are finalised. If signed into law, the ARB will retain their current powers but will be able to start civil proceedings and confiscate assets on the basis of reasonable suspicion.
The Justice Minister detailed that these additional powers will be used to target organised crime, terrorism, money laundering, human trafficking, illegal arms dealing and will heed prision sentences of 10 years and more.
The Bill will aim to give the ARB to issue a monitoring order, investigation order and subsequently a freezing order, and will see the implementation of a specialised civil court.
The Justice Minister praised the legislation and said: “Until today, confiscation of assets ordered by the court can only take place after a criminal conviction. The proposed regime allows assets to be confiscated for serious crimes where it may be very difficult, if not outright impossible to proceed criminally.
The Minister was adamant that this move will bring Malta in line with European standards and said: “This is a clear commitment on the part of the government to seriously fight organised crime, money laundering and serious cross border crime… This is a breakthrough law introducing new concepts within our legal system, such as non-conviction based confiscation and civil actions against objects that are proceeds of crime.”