March 2018 - The long-awaited implementation of the Law on the Organisation and Jurisdiction of Government Authorities on the Suppression of Organised Crime, Terrorism and Corruption (the "Law") came into effect on 1 March 2018. The Law was adopted in late 2016 by the Serbian parliament, but its implementation was delayed for over a year in order to provide a sufficient period for judges and prosecutors to get acquainted with the Law and to undertake necessary training for its implementation. In addition, certain improvements to the infrastructure of courts and public prosecutors offices were required.
The Law introduces several important changes compared to the previous Law on the Organisation and Jurisdiction of Government Authorities in the Suppression of Organised Crime, Corruption and Other Severe Criminal Offences of 2002 (the "Old Law"), such as:
- A significant extension of the list of criminal offences, which are regulated by the Serbian Criminal Code,fall under the scope of the Law, including: six additional criminal offences from the group of offences against official duty and 15 additional criminal offences from the group of offences against economic interests, in addition to the 20 criminal offences relating to organised crime, terrorism and corruption that were already subject to regulation under the Old Law;
- The establishment of special departments for supressing corruption (the "Anti-corruption Departments") at the Ministry of Interior, public prosecutor's offices and courts. Anti-corruption Departments should focus on all criminal offences related to mid and low-level corruption cases, as well as on the group of criminal offences against economic interests, if the obtained benefit from such offences does not exceed RSD 200 million (approx. EUR 1.7 million), except for offences related to public procurements, where the threshold is RSD 800 million (approx. EUR 6.8 million). Investigating and probing high-level corruption cases, i.e. corruption cases related to highest state officials, as well as offences against economic interests, if the obtained benefit from such offences exceeds RSD 200 million (approx. EUR 1.7 million) or RSD 800 million (approx. 6.8 million) in public procurements, shall remain with the existing special departments for combating organised crime (the "Organised Crime Departments"), which is similar to the solution implemented in the Old Law; and
- The establishment of special auxiliary units within the Anti-corruption Departments and the Organised Crime Departments that should assist these Departments in the struggle against corruption and organised crime, such as:
- Task Forces ("TFs") – These are special organisational structures within each Public Prosecutor's office. According to the Law, these groups are given special assignments on specific cases. They shall be comprised of personnel who will be working only on the TF's goals, and consequently will be relieved of any other duties they might have had before joining the TF. The idea behind this is to speed up the process of prosecuting certain complex cases by having an effective, specialised group that will deal with that case only;
- Financial Forensic Divisions ("FFDs") – Since financial-related criminal offences include extremely complex financial operations, the FFDs should provide guidelines to public prosecutors in analysing financial data and help them to decide whether there are sufficient grounds to launch criminal proceedings. Further, the FFDs shall help in collecting evidence and presenting it at a court, or join TFs focused on particular criminal offences and complicated cases; and
- Connecting Officials – These are government officials embedded with certain governmental bodies as prescribed by this Law (e.g. Customs Office, National Bank of Serbia etc.) who shall be responsible to keep communication with public prosecutors and to provide them with necessary information. This should allow a quicker flow of information and more effective cooperation between public prosecutors and other governmental bodies.
The Anti-corruption Departments shall be organised as special departments of the Higher Public Prosecutor's Offices and the Higher Courts, as the bodies of first instance, seated in one of the four regional anti-corruption offices (Belgrade, Novi Sad, Nis and Kraljevo). Each Department is competent for the territory of one of the four Serbian Appellate Courts (Belgrade, Novi Sad, Nis and Kragujevac respectively). A special Anti-corruption Department of the Ministry of Interior shall be centralised for the territory of Serbia.
As they were under the Old Law, the Organised Crime Departments are centralised for the territory of Serbia. They include: the independent Public Prosecutor for Organised Crime; special departments of the Higher Court in Belgrade and the Appellate Court in Belgrade as the courts of first and second instance, respectively; the special Organised Crime Unit of the Ministry of Interior; and the Special Detention Unit of the County Prison in Belgrade.
Finally, the Law introduces additional new requirements for all persons employed with the Anti-corruption Departments and Organised Crime Departments in relation to their experience, training, security checks and confidentiality obligations, and offering them certain benefits, in the form of, inter alia, increased salaries.
With its many improvements, the Law is expected to strike a big blow to high-level crime in Serbia. While many, including the Serbian Minister of Justice, have high hopes in relation to it, its actual effectiveness remains to be seen after a certain period of its implementation.
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