Time to take out the trash: Environment Agency launches new Economic Crime Unit
The Environment Agency has launched a new Economic Crime Unit (ECU) to tackle serious financial offences in the waste sector.
The launch comes after the Environment Agency’s National Waste Crime Survey 2023, which found that nearly one-fifth of all the waste produced in England was perceived to be illegally managed. Coupled with this, industry research suggests that waste crime (which encompasses a range of illegal activities including the dumping, burning, illegal shipping and misdescription of waste, as well as the operation of illegal waste sites) costs the economy an estimated £1 billion every year.
The ECU will reinforce the Environment Agency’s efforts to tackle money laundering and to carry out financial investigations.
The new ECU will comprise two teams:
– the Asset Denial Team, which will focus on account freezing orders, cash seizures, pre-charge restraint and confiscation; and
– the Money Laundering Investigations Team, which will enable the Environment Agency to conduct dedicated money laundering investigations targeting environmental offences.
In addition, the new unit will utilise the Environment Agency’s existing working relationships with the police and HM Revenue & Customs.
In a press release, Alan Lovell, Chair of the Environment Agency, said:
“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.”
In the 2021/22 financial year, the Environment Agency brought 94 prosecutions for waste crime offences, resulting in total fines exceeding £6.2 million.
The introduction of the new ECU should add a powerful tool the agency’s arsenal as it steps up its efforts to combat criminality in the waste sector. It also serves to highlight an increasing focus on criminal and regulatory enforcement in dealing with environmental offences, and may signal a wider shift by enforcement bodies in ESG-related matters.