Asset Management Bureau to be modeled on Irish system – Bonnici

Justice Minister Owen Bonnici says government set to turn to private bailiffs for unprecedented seizure of criminal assets

Justice Minister Owen Bonnici (Photo: Ray Attard)
Justice Minister Owen Bonnici (Photo: Ray Attard)

An Asset Management Bureau set up to confiscate assets seized from criminals and drug barons will be modeled on the Irish system, Justice Minister Owen Bonnici said.

Addressing parliament, Bonnici said the government will enter into public-private partnerships with international agencies to set up the bureau. The entity would have the authority to freeze all the assets of people suspected or convicted of major crimes. This is partially intended to help the government fight drug traffickers.

During his speech, Bonnici also replied to criticism leveled by the opposition. He however opted not to delve into PN MP Beppe Fenech Adami’s criticism of how government handled the Sheehan incident. Fenech Adami also asked why it took the police a week to charge the police constable before a court of law.

“These are political comments and I think it’s better if we leave that debate to another time,” he said, addressing parliament at 9.30pm on his ministry’s financial estimates.

The justice minister also urged the Opposition to be careful in what they said on the members of the judiciary, as not to undermine the people’s trust in them. He said, it was one thing for MPs to hit out at one another, but it was completely different when the guns are turned to magistrates and judges.

Bonnici said Fenech Adami was right to complain on the high rate of notifications but even here the government has implemented a number of measures.

“Furthermore, I did propose that in small cases, the magistrate should be allowed to go ahead with a sentence when people refuse to appear in court despite having been duly notified,” he said.

Bonnici said the government was ready to implement such a system, but was now waiting for the Opposition to declare its position on the matter. He said that such a decision should be unanimously approved in parliament. Bonnici recounted how one case before the family court took two years to be decided after a man’s repeated refusal to appear in court on a maintenance case despite numerous notifications.

Bonnici said the holistic reform of the justice system is being implemented over three years, with the first year having focused on important changes in the criminal sector. No less than seven laws were approved, one of which includes the possibility for an accused – facing a charge with a sentence not exceeding 10 years imprisonment – to admit to the charges at early stages.

The minister admitted that the backlog of appeals in the superior court was never ending, a matter that worried him and was in constant contact with members of the judiciary to see how this could be resolved.

Taking umbrage at comments that the government had failed in its cultural pledges, Bonnici said the government had just launched a national dance company and it would be honouring its pledge with carnival enthusiasts in the development of a carnival village.

At the end of Bonnici's speech, the House, at 10.15pm, voted on the budgetary estimates of four ministries. Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi is absent.

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