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Mafia asset confiscation measure advances in European Parliament

May 9, 2013 at 12:03 AM   |   Comments

BRUSSELS, May 9 (UPI) -- A key European Parliament committee this week signed off on legislation calling for confiscation of organized crime assets and their distribution to local communities.

The EP's Civil Liberties Committee Tuesday voted to approve part of a larger anti-Mafia report that would apply to assets deemed to be held by criminal organizations.

Under the proposal, drawn up by the Parliament's Special Committee on Organized Crime, EU members would be asked to simplify rules on confiscating criminals' assets.

Among its provisions, the measure would allow for the confiscation of buildings, vehicles and other assets even before the end of a trial, if permitted by local judicial authorities. Proceeds from the assets would be redistributed to benefit the community for "social purposes."

The confiscation provision was part of a landmark package of tough anti-Mafia proposals approved Tuesday by the European Parliament's special organized crime committee.

In addition to asset confiscation, they would bar anyone convicted of a serious crime or corruption from tendering for public contracts or running for election in the European Union for at least five years. They would also make Mafia membership a crime throughout the European bloc.

The idea of confiscation, however, had to pass civil liberties muster. After months of discussion between the European Parliament's organized crime and civil liberties committees, the measure was passed and goes to a June plenary vote in Strasbourg, France.

The approval of the anti-Mafia package was welcomed by Sonia Alfano, an Italian member of European Parliament and chairwoman of the special committee on organized crime.

"After a year of negotiations we were able to insert into the text advanced standards such as confiscation without conviction and the reuse of assets confiscated for social purposes," she said.

"The text proposes a standardization of national laws in order to make it easier to cooperate, and thus make possible a European assault against criminal assets."

Should it pass the plenary vote, the anti-Mafia legislation would then be subject to negotiations with national justice ministers in the European Council, where it could be watered down or otherwise amended.

But, Alfano said, "one thing is certain: the European Parliament is every day taking a position and assuming its responsibility to address the threat posed by crime organized by the Mafia."

The measure comes a month after Italian anti-Mafia police confiscated $1.7 billion in assets from Vito Nicastri, 57, of Sicily's Trapani province, a well-known photovoltaic power generation and wind power entrepreneur, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.

Authorities alleged Nicastri was able to become the "king of wind power" in Sicily thanks to his connections with fugitive reputed Mafia "superboss" Matteo Messina Denaro and the 'Ndrangheta criminal organization in Calabria.

Seized assets included all the shares of Nicastri's company; 98 buildings, villas, warehouses and tracts of land; seven vehicles such as cars, motorcycles and boats; and 66 financial assets, including current accounts, life insurance policies, security deposits, credit cards, prepaid cards and investment funds, the Rome daily Il Fatto Quotidiano reported.

The European Parliament's confiscation measure, meanwhile, underwent some thorny negotiations, with some MEPs worried that seizing property before a conviction would violate the human rights of accused Mafiosi.

Thus a provision was inserted leaving such defendants the right to regain their property through appeals to the local courts, the Quotidiano di Sicilia reported.

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