SLOVAKS who gained their property illegally may soon lose it to the state if legislators pass a new law recently proposed by the Justice Ministry.
A so-called law on proving the origin of property would enable Slovaks to report their neighbours or acquaintances to the police if they have doubts over how individuals have accumulated their assets.
To defend police and investigators from a flood of informants police would investigate the suspicions only in cases where the difference between the legal earnings of the person involved and the value of his assets exceeded Sk1.1 million (€26,200).
There are fears that the legislators might just reject the law. Similar legislation has been proposed twice already but has never passed through the parliament.
Despite the history of failures with introducing laws of this type, Justice Minister Daniel Lipšic hopes the law will find support among MPs dubbing it a "milestone" legislation that is "a vital part of the country's fight against corruption".
Lipšic said: "My optimism [that the law will pass] springs from the fact that fight against corruption is a serious matter and if we want people to support this fight politicians must first show that they themselves are dedicated to rooting out corruption."
According to the law, the police would start initial investigations and if evidence were found that a person might have gained assets by illegal means, they would forward the case to the Attorney General's office. The latter would double check that evidence secured by police is substantial and if the police findings are confirmed, it would file a lawsuit against the person.
That person's property would then be frozen through a court ruling as a preventive measure and in court the prosecutor as well as the suspect would have to defend their claims.
If the court finds the prosecutor's evidence stronger that that of the defendant, it would issue a verdict obliging the person to pay a so-called security to the state, money that could range from 50 to 100 percent of the value of the questioned property.
To defend the constitutional rights of citizens to hold private assets, the defendant would have five years to prove that the property had been accumulated through legal means by presenting new evidence. If that failed the security would go to the state.
Some observers, however, warned that the law could be "misused" as Pavel Nechala, an analyst with the Transparency International anti-corruption watchdog said. He added, however, that everyone should be able to prove the origin of their property if it was gained through legal routes.
It is generally expected, however, that the proposal will not be passed easily in parliament as several MPs and officials have said the justice minister "should not rush ahead" with the legislation, as deputy speaker of parliament Viliam Veteška recently put it.
Although he said he was ready to prove the origin of his personal property without any problem, he said the law was sensitive and unclear in some of its clauses and could potentially meet with claims that it was unconstitutional.
Lipšic admitted that "in some parts the law touches on constitutional limits" but insisted that there were sufficient checks to prevent the abuse of legislation, including the clause that only cases in which the gap between income and value of property exceeded one million crowns will be dealt with.
Justice Ministry wants the law to take effect as of January 1 next year.
21. Jul 2003 at 0:00 | Martina Pisárová