(CN) – Europe’s second-highest court upheld the freezing of a suspected terrorist’s assets, even though he was later acquitted and released.
Police arrested Mohamed El Morabit and others from the Dutch Muslim “Hofstad Group” in June 2004 on suspicion of planning an attack on Portugal’s Prime Minister Jose Barroso. The men were released for lack of evidence.
In November 2004, Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh – who had produced a piece portraying mistreatment of women in Islam – was shot and mutilated while riding his bicycle to work. Mohammed Bouyeri, a Dutch national with alleged Hofstad Group ties, was later convicted to life in prison for the killing.
Police rearrested El Morabit and others about a week after the murder. A Rotterdam court convicted El Morabit of terrorist activities in 2006, but the Hague Court of Appeal acquitted him and several others in January 2008.
El Morabit brought two actions to the European Court of First Instance, claiming that the freezing of his bank accounts in 2007 violated a presumption of innocence.
The court ruled that sound evidence of terrorist activities is sufficient to freeze assets – otherwise, international peace and security could be jeopardized. Presumption of innocence doesn’t preclude such precautionary measures, and the practice is authorized by European Union legislation, the court reasoned.
Because the frozen assets list is regularly revised, and because El Morabit’s name was timely removed after his acquittal, the asset freeze did not constitute a pre-judging penalty, the ruling states.
If the court did not interpret the law as such, it would undermine the effectiveness of asset restriction by allowing suspects to move their money around and evade prosecution, the Court of First Instance concluded.