England's Environment Agency has established a new economic crime unit meant to specifically tackle money laundering and other financial crimes within the waste management sector. The unit is intended "to ensure those working in waste management do the right thing and gangsters are unable to operate in the sector", the Agency said in an announcement made at the start of the week.
The newly formed unit is to expand on the work done by the Agency's financial investigations team, which has had "significant success in seizing money and assets". Staffed by accredited financial investigators, financial intelligence officers and a financial crime analyst, the unit and its work are to help the Environment Agency (EA) "better understand the bigger picture around financial crime, as well as to identify proactive opportunities for investigation".
The unit is to consist of two teams focused on "asset denial" and the money laundering investigations. The asset denial team is to focus on account freezing orders, cash seizures, pre-charge restraints and confiscations. "Where we suspect a bank account is being used for illegally made funds, we can freeze the money in it and the onus is on the account holder to prove the money is legitimate. If they are unable to do so the money will be forfeited," explained the EA. The money laundering investigations team is dedicated to money laundering investigations targeting environmental offences.
EA Chair Alan Lovell underscored the adverse impact of waste crime on both communities and the environment. He noted that it costs the British economy an estimated £1bn annually, equivalent to about €1.17bn.
The members of the Environmental Services Association (ESA), private sector waste management companies in the UK, "very much welcome the EA's new financial investigatory efforts". The association's executive director, Jacob Hayler, said, "From fly-tipping to landfill tax evasion, waste crime is fundamentally a financial crime predicated on avoiding the cost of proper waste treatment in pursuit of maximum profit – leaving society and the natural environment to foot the bill while undermining legitimate business."
The EA sees the work that will be carried out by the new unit as part of its wider intelligence-led approach to fighting waste crime, enabling it "to focus on the worst criminals and the biggest environmental harms and threats across the country". Under a new sharing agreement with the British customs authority HMRC, the Agency was now regularly receiving customs data. With an improved understanding of export routes and patterns, the EA was able to more efficiently deploy its field officers to intercept illegal shipments before they leave the country, the agency said.