Waste Crime : INTERPOL report: Nexus between organized crime and pollution crime

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One key observation of global law enforcement operations regarding pollution crime was that transnational organized crime was likely involved in a number of cases. But up until now the exact nature and implications of organised crime groups' role in pollution crime on a global level has not been completely clear. A new report published by INTERPOL manages to shed light on this topic.

It studies patterns of 27 pollution crime cases across 19 member countries. While most of the cases come from European countries, investigations demonstrate that the organized crime-pollution crime nexus is a global phenomenon, involving a wide variety of perpetrators and organizational structures, INTERPOL said in a statement.

A highly profitable crime

Illegal pollution is a highly profitable crime as the numbers show. The profits from the studied cases total over half a billion USD, ranging from $175,000 to $58 million. The costs to clean up and decontaminate illegal pollution sites are nearly as high and range from USD 6 million to 37 million (USD 15.6 million on average) according to the cases examined.

To facilitate pollution offences, perpetrators systematically commit a series of document frauds and financial crimes, including tax evasion and money laundering. In some cases requiring the complicity of public officials, perpetrators also resort to bribery, extortion and fraud.

Transnational networks are often key to pollution offences. In one case, organized crime groups illegally exported municipal waste from the United Kingdom and dumped it in Poland, fraudulently claiming to dispose of the waste in legitimate UK-based sites, as they were paid to do. The illegal dumping resulted in an estimated 30-40 waste fires in Poland.

De-centralized structure

According to INTERPOL the perpetrators fall into two categories:

  1. mafia or gang-style criminal groups
  2. and businessmen and women operating under the cover of a legitimate firm, or as a network of individual brokers without the knowledge of other companies linked to them.

This de-centralized structure reflects the way that much cross-border business is done. Also the picture that emerges is one where different forms of pollution crime often coexist and blend with legitimate operators. This does not, however, make the crime any less organized, or any less damaging, says INTERPOL.

Make polluting a high-risk crime

Pollution offences very often are characterised as low-risk, high-profit. Authorities have to face many hurdles when policing such crimes. Cooperation gaps between police and environmental regulatory authorities as well as a lack of specialized training, the low prioritization of pollution enforcement in many countries and legal obstacles when pollution crime is not one of the predicate, or ‘serious’, offences that can be prosecuted under organized crime laws pose real challenges for law enforcement. Also these crimes often unfold over several years and rarely lead to charges related to organized crime, only to environmental or fraud-related offenses. The penalties for these are significantly lower than those related to organized crime, said The Basel Action Network in a statement.

The INTERPOL report recommends integrating the tools and techniques used against organized and financial crime in the investigation of pollution crime. According to the experts this could be done through multi-disciplinary training of investigators or establishing permanent multi-agency task forces.

Systematic data collection and analysis on the companies and criminal networks charged with pollution crime are also necessary in order to conduct intelligence-led operations, focusing on high-value targets.