Amendments to the Serbian Penal Code – Overhaul of the White Collar Crime System
The Serbian Parliament enacted the changes to the Serbian Penal Code. One of the biggest changes was a complete rewrite of the chapter on offences against economic interests –offences committed in business activities. These changes will come into force on 1 March 2018.
At the beginning of the 21st century, the criminal offences most commonly indicted against white collar offenders were intertwined in the Penal Code with the offences committed by government officials – a relic from socialist times. Since the year 2000 numerous amendments to the criminal legislation ensued – the chapter on white collar crimes was expanded and the wording was changed, but a certain void was always present and made significant difficulties for enforcement of the law.
The reform introduced new offences – giving insight in which direction the Serbian law enforcement and prosecutors will shift their main focus in the years to come. The new offences are: Business Fraud, Insurance Fraud, Misappropriation in Commercial Activities, Abuse of Trust in Commercial Activities, Abuse in Privatisation Proceedings, Entering into Restrictive Agreement, Accepting Bribe in Commercial Activities, Giving Bribe in Commercial Activities.
Some other offences have been deleted from the Penal Code – Issuing Uncovered Checks or Using Uncovered Debit Cards, Abuse of Monopolistic Position, Abuse of Authority in Commercial Activities and Consumer Deception. Most of the deleted offences were obsolete, survivors from socialist times – preserved in the text, but rarely enforced. Any charges for the deleted offences still pending after 1 March 2018 will be dropped.
It is important to notice that, according to the general principles of the Serbian criminal law, alleged offenders can be prosecuted only for their actions after 1 March 2018. It remains to be seen what will happen to the alleged offences prosecuted according to the old Penal Code that fit into the description of some of the new offences. In any case, the more lenient version of the law will be applied to the offender.
In several offences the definition of potential offenders has been broadened – from companies’ responsible officers to any person participating in a transaction or a procedure.
It is also important to notice that the definition of the offender in the Tax Evasion offence is broadened to any person with the intention of tax evasion both for himself or any other person. It remains to be seen whether this will be interpreted as a possibility to prosecute, for example, tax consultants and accountants.
The penal policies did not change – the sanctions have remained intact as have the thresholds for more serious forms of criminal offences.
Enough time for preparation was given to both law enforcement and defence sides. The legislators have high hopes that this reform will give more space to police and prosecutors to discover offences and offenders. However, the lack of financial expertise in all branches of the law enforcement will remain a key problem with white collar crime prevention and prosecution.