On the 30-31st October, high-level police law enforcement agents from inside and outside the EU shared their strategic views regarding the investigation on waste and pollution crimes, at Europol.
The year 2017 meant a major milestone for the fight against environmental crime in the EU as for the first time ever this criminal area was declared as a priority. However, the decision was not based on actual contributions and therefore it did rely on a political will more than on actual recommendation and findings of SOCTA. Nowadays, the scenario is different and SOCTA 2021 included waste & pollution crimes as one of the priorities, wildlife crimes being included later on by the EU Council.
EMPACT initiatives were accompanied by the opening of a dedicated team in Europol in order to support the operational activities from national competent authorities. Next to traditional transnational waste trafficking cases, other criminal activities were addressed such as illegal managing of waste and illegal dumping, trafficking of F-gas and ozone depleting substances, pollution, maritime pollution and shipbreaking. Therefore, the intelligence picture on the topic could be updated and completed.
Regardless of the release of the priority a few years ago, most important challenges stand, namely: the lack of the implementation of international cooperation tools in national protocols; the lack of harmonization of national legal frameworks; and above all, the lack of national focal points and well dimensioned and specialized units in national competent agencies.
In parallel, the EU released a comprehensive strategy on environmental crimes including the revision and release of a new Environmental Crime Directive, aiming to include new criminal behaviors, to clarify undefined concepts and mandatory national strategies and reporting mechanisms.
Outcomes of the current mentioned activity and state of play of the fight against waste & pollution crimes, it is worth to underline:
– Above all, it is needed to enhance the information flow at national and international level using the proper channels of Europol, Interpol, Olaf, Eurojust and other organizations according to the needs of investigations. Thus, two objectives would be accomplished: concrete benefit for the success of the investigations and relevance and consolidation of the priority in the EMPACT Cycle.
– Financial investigations need to be allocated on a regular basis next to the core case in order to implement the principle “follow the money”, proceed with assets recovery procedures and properly disrupt the criminal activities of the networks. Consequently, proper specialization in financial investigations may be implemented. Europol support would be considered in terms of financial investigations.
– Operational focus may be put on the broad scope of related criminal behaviors besides traditional transnational waste trafficking. Criminality is agile and swiftly adapts to new scenarios, which are necessary to be addressed. As examples, F-gases trafficking, CO2 emissions fraud and green project frauds.
– The new Environmental Crime Directive is bringing a new legal framework and new opportunities as well. In this regard, the inclusion of mandatory national strategies and reporting tools need to be implemented swiftly and materialized into well-dimensioned and specialized units in competent national agencies.
– Likewise, due to the plethora of different agencies, bodies and inspectorates involved, national focal points are necessary in order to canalize and enhance the information flow both in national and international level. The national coordination looking towards the establishment of risk indicators and later release of investigations is a matter of need. Likewise, it is mandatory to ensure the access to international investigation tools and channels for information exchange to all the national stakeholders.
– Last but not least, cooperation with civil and private sector are recurrent on other criminal areas such as cyber-crime and counter-terrorism and may be implemented in environmental crimes as well.