Responsibility of Political Parties for Criminal Offences

Responsibility of Political Parties for Criminal Offences

This project focuses on the models of responsibility of political parties for criminal offences. Political parties typically engage in violence (e.g. oppression in totalitarian settings, hatecrime of extremist political parties etc.), organised crime (e.g. political parties acting as terrorist organisation or collaborating with the mafia) and illegal markets (e.g. political parties sometimes encourage transactions in the grey zone for their political campaigns).

In April 2012, a Croatian county court began a trial against one of two major political parties in Croatia, the Croatian Democratic Union (CDU) and against the former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader. The state attorney’s office accused Sanader, CDU and several accomplices of conspiracy and abusing power by making illegal transactions with Fimi Media company and by receiving illegal donations, in the period between 2003 and 2009, through which CDU illegally gained at least 31.6 million HRK (€ 4,1 million), while Sanader himself illegally obtained at least 15 million HRK (€ 2 million). On 11 March 2014, CDU was convicted and fined with 5 million HRK (€ 650,000) and is ordered to pay 24.2 million HRK (€ 3.1 million) of reparations. The CDU case, which is currently on appeal, is used for an empirical and critical assessment of models of liability of political parties for criminal offences.

However, the CDU case remains an isolated example in comparative perspective. In most countries, it is difficult or impossible to attribute criminal liability to political parties. This is mainly due to legal obstacles to prosecute or convict political parties, or because of unwilling law enforcement bodies to undertake criminal procedures and hold political parties criminally liable. There is some paradox in such state of affairs. Namely, political parties have the highest responsibilities when governing state administrations; however, they bear little responsibility when they abuse the given powers. There are two main reasons for this. First is that classical doctrine of criminal law rejects the possibility of holding collectives criminally liable. Second is that ruling political parties – being the creators of legal frameworks governing their activities and having to certain extent the political influence on the criminal justice system – are in a position to minimise the possibility of sanctions for the wrongdoings they commit throughout their mandates. This vicious circle creates a state of “responsibility without accountability” i.e. it provides power and functions to political elites, but the risk of sanctioning their misbehaviours are minimal.

The results of this project have so far demonstrated that the causes of criminal activities of political parties are linked to the misbalance of two colliding interests: the duty to act for the benefit of the people vs. the will to power. When the prevailing goal of their conduct is to satisfy their will to power – the driving force of using all possible means to obtain or to maintain a political or financial power in the state – there is a tendency to engage in criminal activities. Furthermore, when there is a lack of mechanisms of control over the performance of political parties, particularly in underdeveloped and transitional societies, such settings provide additional incentives to their engagement in criminal activities.

MPPG contact for Responsibility of Political Parties for Criminal Offences: Aleksandar Maršavelski