Environment Agency Launches Economic Crime Unit

The UK government has introduced a new unit within the Environment Agency to tackle money laundering and other criminal activity in the country’s waste sector.

The Economic Crime Unit will be tasked with investigating money laundering offences and other financial crimes in a bid to drive out criminals operating in the industry.

Waste crime is thought to cost the UK economy around £1 billion annually and has been described as a “blight” on the community.

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.”

The Economic Crime Unit will comprise two teams, the Money Laundering Investigations team and the Asset Denial team, which will comprise highly skilled staff including Accredited Financial Investigators, Accredited Financial Intelligence Officers and a Financial Crime Analyst.

The Money Laundering Investigations Team will enable the Environment Agency to conduct dedicated money laundering investigations targeting environmental offences. A conviction for money laundering offences can result in 14 years in prison.

The Asset Denial team will focus on account freezing orders, cash seizures, pre-charge restraints and confiscations.

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.”

Executive Director of the Environmental Services Association (ESA), 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.

“For too long, criminals operating in our sector have viewed enforcement and criminal penalties as an acceptable cost of business, so the ESA and its members very much welcome the Environment Agency’s new financial investigatory efforts, alongside tougher asset-denial measures to demonstrate that crime in our sector doesn’t pay.”

The establishment of the Economic Crime Unit is the latest in a series of attempts by the Environment Agency to clamp down on illicit activity in the waste sector. It comes on the back of a national survey which found 18% of all waste in England was perceived to be illegally managed.

Last September, a director and his waste company were ordered to pay nearly £110,000 following a case brought by the Environment Agency for illegal waste activities in Worcestershire.

Following an Environment Agency prosecution, quarry operators near Stevenage were given prison sentences in November 2023 after storing and burying enough illegal waste to fill the Royal Albert Hall nearly three times over.

In January, a man was jailed for persistently importing and burning waste on a large scale at two sites in Essex and was ordered to pay costs of £85,000.

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