LUXEMBOURG (CN) — European Union regulations don’t prevent countries from confiscating assets from someone charged with civil offenses or not yet convicted of a crime, the EU’s highest court ruled Thursday.
The question before the five-judge panel of the European Court of Justice was whether Bulgaria was allowed to confiscate assets from Tsvetan Vassilev, the then-chairman of Corporate Commercial Bank who was accused of misappropriating bank funds, while the proceedings were still underway.
“EU law does not preclude national legislation which provides that a court may order the confiscation of illegally obtained assets following proceedings which are not subject either to a finding of a criminal offence or, a fortiori, the conviction of the persons accused of committing such an offence,” the Luxembourg-based court said in a press release. The ruling was not available in English.
The Court of Justice is currently shut down due to the coronavirus outbreak, but it is still issuing judgments in cases it heard before the outbreak began.
Vassilev, identified in court documents as B.P., was charged with stealing 205 million Bulgarian lev ($114 million) from the bank in 2017. An investigation was launched in 2014, following media reports about his allegedly shady business dealings.
As part of the investigation, the Bulgarian government found that both Vassilev and members of his families had assets that the government deemed suspicious. It initiated civil proceedings at the Sofia City Court to freeze or confiscate them.
Corporate Commercial Bank, then Bulgaria’s fourth largest bank, collapsed in 2014 after customers panicked by media reports of Vassilev’s alleged misbehavior rushed to withdraw their assets. The collapse triggered a national banking crisis. The Bulgarian government would eventually spend 2 billion Bulgarian lev ($1.39 billion) bailing out depositors.
The local court was unclear whether, under the European Union Framework on Confiscation of Crime-Related Proceeds, it was allowed to order the confiscation of assets from people charged with civil offenses or from people whose criminal charges were still pending. The framework establishes minimum rules for the confiscation of crime-related proceeds for all 27 member states of the political and economic union.
The Luxembourg-based court found that the framework “does not therefore govern the confiscation of instrumentalities and proceeds ordered in the context of or following proceedings that do not concern the finding of one or more criminal offences.”
Vassilev denies that he did anything illegal.
“Corpbank fell victim to the greediness of the Bulgarian political mafia which controls most state institutions behind the curtain,” he told Forbes in 2015.
He left Bulgaria for Serbia, where he now lives. Serbia denied an extradition request in 2015, though the proceedings in Bulgaria are ongoing.
The Court of Justice ruling is final and cannot be appealed.