A report by Eurojust, the EU’s judicial cooperation body, has revealed that organised crime groups (OCGs) are behind cross-border environmental crime, claiming Italy and Ireland are exporting “dangerous waste” to third states.
The report states that at the same time, despite huge profits from these crimes (estimated at circa £20-50bn per year. Source: OECD), statistics show that environmental crime is seldom prosecuted by national authorities.
The number of cases referred to Eurojust is “very low”, the organisation says, despite the need for a cross-border approach to achieve convictions, which Eurojust explained at a briefing in Brussels on 21 November.
This is the first report by Eurojust on environmental crime, and it focuses on three topics, aiming to look at national enforcement structures, access to expertise, and possible solutions to tackle the challenges of trafficking in endangered species, illegal trafficking in waste, and surface water pollution.
The subjects include dangerous waste illegally exported to third states from Italy and Ireland; different forms of water pollution in Greece, Hungary and Sweden; illegal export of bird eggs and monkeys.
The president of Eurojust, Ms Michèle Coninsx, and the leader of Eurojust’s Project Team on Environmental Crime, Mr Leif Görts, commented: “This report is an alarm call for practitioners and policymakers about the serious impact of this relatively new and increasingly frequent crime type.
Vera Jourová, Commissoner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality – “Organised crime groups are active in environmental crime since the penalties are low. This situation calls for cross-border action and for the correct organisational structures to be put in place in the member states”
The report found that the proceeds of environmental crime are very high, yet the penalties are low. Links to OCGs and illegal trafficking in waste are underreported or simply not investigated. The report found that a lack of coordination among competent authorities at both national and international level, e.g. the public prosecutor does not receive the necessary information from customs or veterinary authorities.
To a large extent, national authorities fail to tackle cases in a cross-border manner, the report says, and that implementation of EU legislation at national level differs from member state to member state. It says this “hampers a harmonised, cross-border approach to fighting environmental crime”.
Some member states do not have the proper organisational structures in place, e.g. dedicated police units or prosecutors focusing solely on environmental crime. Sweden, the UK and the Netherlands have such dedicated prosecutors.
Solutions proposed in the report to help tackle these issues include better intelligence-gathering at member state level, developed through a multi-disciplinary approach, in which different authorities cooperate better, and sharing of best practice and expertise.
The body says it should be involved early in the coordination of investigations and prosecutions and a more systematic use of its tools – joint investigation teams, coordination meetings and coordination centres – to more effectively fight serious cross-border environmental crime.
Vera Jourová, Commissoner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, commented: “One of my priorities as a Commissioner is to build the citizens’ trust in the judicial systems of the EU. And one of the elements in building this trust is to prosecute, and to make sure that serious criminals actually are put behind bars. At the same time, you must safeguard the citizens’ rights and the Rule of Law when issuing orders for searches and seizes.
“This is why it is crucial that prosecutors are involved from the start when fighting cross-border crimes. Environmental crime is threatening human life, health, and natural resources. These crimes affect the whole of society. They must therefore be targeted with the same seriousness as other criminal offences.”
For the full report CLICK HERE