Justifying the State seizure of ill-gotten assets
The Prevention of Organised Crime Act (POCA) is underused, yet it is a legal instrument through which the taxpayer can regain what they have lost to conmen and the corrupt.
Citizenry has lost billions of dollars to crooked characters in our society and asset forfeiture of such a crook’s wealth is the only way to pay back what is lost promptly and swiftly.
Many people whose cases are still before the courts have, we suspect, used the same money they are charged with stealing to buy properties such as farms, expensive vehicles and other outward signs of wealth.
For too long the State could do nothing about this, even if they knew how these stolen funds were being used. Through POCA it now has a legal basis on which to force the forfeiture of such ill-gotten assets.
Through POCA the country’s Prosecutor General can apply for the forfeiture to the State of the assets that a criminal has used to commit a serious crime, which they have obtained from crime or which they have purchased with the profits of crime.
The legality of POCA is now being challenged by those involved in the so-called Teko debacle - in which alleged corrupt payments were obtained totaling N$42 million through a transaction in which the Finance Ministry bought security-scanning equipment from a Chinese manufacturer.
Some would argue that asset forfeiture laws represent one of the most serious assaults on private property rights in the world today and this constitutes a legal basis to oppose the POCA.
In most cases those convicted of the theft of public funds in Namibia serve their time but as long as what they stole remains in the hands of their families, the country suffers the loss.
In our view, the standard practice should be that a forfeiture application must be among the first steps taken against criminals who steal public resources so that citizens are not deprived as is currently happening.
Citizens have the right to fully benefit from the country’s resources - as opposed to having a few individuals feasting alone and unscrupulously?
When criminals are caught they are considered innocent until proven guilty and they are entitled to their constitutional rights such as due process. But surely the State has the right (and now the legal basis through the POCA) to recover what its citizens have lost to those who would steal from the country?