The Environment Agency has launched the Economic Crime Unit to target money laundering in the waste sector.
The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) said the new unit expands on the Environment Agency Financial Investigations Team, which seizes money and assets. Defra said the unit will help to ensure people working in waste management “do the right thing and gangsters are unable to operate in the sector”.
Commenting on the new unit, Environment Minister Robbie Moore said: “We are all victims of waste crime – criminals leave a trail of both environmental damage and ill-gotten gains, while gangsters’ misdeeds can even include drugs, trafficking and firearms.
“The establishment of the Economic Crime Unit provides another powerful tool in our fight against waste criminals who undermine legitimate business and blight communities.
“We are going further to remould the waste industry and combat cowboy operators, including by introducing mandatory digital waste tracking and reforming the waste carriers regime, meaning those transporting or making decisions about waste must demonstrate they are competent to do so.”
The Asset Denial Team and the Money Laundering Investigations Team will make up the unit. Defra said the Asset Denial Team will focus on account freezing orders, cash seizures, pre-charge restraints and confiscations.
The Money Laundering Investigations Team will enable the Environment Agency to conduct dedicated money laundering investigations targeting environmental offences, Defra said.
Staff working in the unit will consist of Accredited Financial Investigators, Accredited Financial Intelligence Officers and a Financial Crime Analyst.
The Environment Agency’s third national survey on the extent and nature of waste crime found that 18% of all waste in England was perceived to be illegally managed annually – approximately 34 million tonnes.
Alan Lovell, Chair of the Environment Agency, commented: “Waste crime is a blight on communities and our environment. By undermining legitimate business investment, it costs our economy an estimated £1 billion every year – money being taken away from other essential services to deal with the damage caused by waste criminals.
“The Environment Agency is committed to taking tough action and the launch of our dedicated Economic Crime Unit shows we will not tolerate organised criminals moving into the waste sector and using it to facilitate other crimes.”
This would appear to signal its (Environment Agency) intention to use additional economic crime powers to extend this activity.
Responding to the announcement, Kingsley Napley Criminal Litigation partner, Jonathan Grimes, who specialises in business crime including health and safety and environmental crime said:
“While the Environment Agency has long targeted the profits of illegal waste operations, this would appear to signal its intention to use additional economic crime powers to extend this activity.
“In particular the use of account freezing and forfeiture orders will enable the agency to target the financial resources of companies without needing to secure a criminal conviction for waste crime, or even to open a criminal investigation.
“Such orders, introduced in 2017, have become popular with almost all law enforcement agencies. Easy and relatively cheap to obtain, hard to defend against, and highly disruptive, it is no surprise that the Environment Agency is keen to make use of them as well.”