Most waste crimes committed ‘under cover’ of legitimacy, Interpol says

Interpol says the “large majority” of ‘pollution crime’ suspects are businesspeople operating under the cover of a legitimate firm or as a network of individual brokers.

Waste dumped in a forest near Warsaw, Poland, in December 2021 (picture: Shutterstock)

Earlier this month (4 August), Interpol published a report on the relationship between organised crime and so-called pollution crime, an umbrella term describing a range of criminal activities, including waste crime.

Though some cases of pollution crime involve centralised mafia or gang-style criminal groups, Interpol says, most do not take the form “one might expect”.

In a statement, Interpol said: “This decentralised structure reflects the way that much cross-border business is done, involving global value chains in which services are regularly subcontracted across a largely ‘horizontal’ network of economic actors.

“Some of the legitimate companies in these networks shift towards illegal business practices and commit pollution offences to increase their profit margins, with or without the knowledge of other companies linked to them.”

Interpol’s report analyses 27 case studies, mostly from Europe and including three from the UK, and says illegal pollution is “highly profitable and serious”.

The proceeds of the pollution offences analysed ranged from $175,000 (£145,000) to $58 million (£48 million). This corresponds to an average of $19.6 million (£16.3 million) for each case.

Pollution crime

Interpol suggests that, 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, Interpol says.

Interpol says transnational networks are “key” to pollution offences (picture: Shutterstock)

Transnational networks are often key to pollution offences, Interpol claims, citing the example of organised criminal groups illegally exporting municipal waste from the UK to Poland.

The costs of cleaning and decontaminating the illegal pollution sites involved in the 27 case studies ranged from $6 million (£5 million) to $37 million (£30.6 million), Interpol says.


To combat pollution crime, Interpol makes three recommendations for national law enforcement agencies.

Interpol has its headquarters in Lyon, France (picture: Shutterstock)

Firstly, that they elevate pollution crime to a “priority level” in national law enforcement agendas, shifting from a reactive to a proactive approach when investigating such crimes domestically, and “proactively engaging” in cooperation with foreign authorities and Interpol to tackle transnational cases.

Secondly, that national law enforcement agencies integrate the tools and techniques of organised crime and financial investigations into environmental crime investigations on a regular basis, either through more “multidisciplinary” training for investigators or by establishing permanent multi-agency task forces.

And, thirdly, that the agencies undertake systematic and accurate data collection and intelligence analysis on the companies and criminal networks charged with pollution crimes, to support “intelligence-led” operations.

Case studies

Three of Interpol’s 27 case studies involved instances of waste crime in the UK shared by the Environment Agency, though none of the companies involved are named.

Environment Agency staff investigate the site of a waste crime

The first of these case studies, known as Operation Jenson, saw an organised criminal group establish several publicly registered companies with waste licences. However, Interpol says waste was never taken to legitimate facilities and was “illegally dumped” instead. The group forged documents and transferred funds to members through various bank accounts, Interpol says. Later, the group started to broker municipal waste in the UK and transport it to Poland, “falsely labelled as bioplastics for recycling”. The group went on to change its primary business from waste to energy-based cryptocurrencies, Interpol says.

In the second case study, an organised criminal group, cooperating with other groups in various countries, “illegally exported” municipal waste labelled “green plastic” for recycling from the UK and “dumped” it in Poland. The group deceived waste producers into paying a fee for waste management services, Interpol says, telling them that waste was legally disposed of in legitimate UK-based sites and presenting false permit documentation. Brokering often took place in Internet forums. Interpol claims the group’s practices resulted in an estimated 30-40 illegal waste fires in Poland.

In the third UK-based case study, an organised criminal group took control of several waste companies to commit various crimes, such as waste dumping in England and illegal exporting waste to Poland and Belgium. Interpol says the group “seized opportunities to defraud wherever possible through these companies.”

In August 2020, Interpol published a report noting an “alarming increase in the illegal plastic pollution trade” (see story).

Related link
The Nexus Between Organized Crime and Pollution Crime report

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