UK: New Economic Crime Unit to tackle money laundering and carry out financial investigations

As published on: gov.uk, Monday 5 February, 2024. 

The Environment Agency launches Economic Crime Unit to address serious financial offences in the waste sector.

The Environment Agency has launched a new Economic Crime Unit to boost its efforts to tackle money laundering and carry out financial investigations in the waste sector, ensuring crime doesn’t pay.

The unit will help to ensure those working in waste management do the right thing and gangsters are unable to operate in the sector.

The new unit builds on the work of then Environment Agency Financial Investigations Team, which has had significant success in seizing money and assets. Working with partners across law enforcement, the Environment Agency has now expanded this team into the Economic Crime Unit.

The unit will be made up of highly skilled staff including Accredited Financial Investigators, Accredited Financial Intelligence Officers and a Financial Crime Analyst. Conducting crime analysis enables the Environment Agency to understand the bigger picture around financial crime, as well as to identify proactive opportunities for investigation.

It will comprise two teams: the Asset Denial Team and the Money Laundering Investigations Team. The Asset Denial Team will 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.

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, acting as a strong deterrent for criminals considering offending in this way.

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.

Emma Viner, Enforcement & Investigations Manager at the Environment Agency, said:

Waste crime is financially motivated so we know investing our efforts in making sure it doesn’t pay will make it far less attractive to criminals.

That’s why we are excited to have launched our new Economic Crime Unit, which will bolster our efforts to carry out financial investigations and tackle money laundering.

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 Environment Agency’s third national survey on the extent and nature of waste crime found 18% of all waste in England was perceived to be illegally managed – that’s approximately 34 million tonnes across England every year, enough to fill 4 million skips.

The Environment Agency continues to take the fight to criminals with coordinated operations. In January, a man who was jailed for persistently importing and burning waste on a large scale at two sites in Essex was ordered to pay costs of £85,000 following a successful conviction.

Last year, a man found guilty of running an illegal waste site in Kent was ordered to pay fines, costs and compensation of more than £20,000 after magistrates said the offence was committed for “greed and profit”.

Following an Environment Agency prosecution, operators of a quarry 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.

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.

Elsewhere, a prolific waste crime offender was ordered to pay nearly £367,000 under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 in January 2023 after the Environment Agency pursued confiscation proceedings.

Wider action

The Economic Crime Unit will utilise all the working relationships the Environment Agency has already established with partners such as the police and HMRC.

Beyond the Economic Crime Unit, the Environment Agency continues to go further in its efforts to end waste crime. Since April 2022, the Environment Agency has had access to the Police National Computer, Police National Database and National Automatic Number Plate Recognition Service. The Environment Agency is one of three non-police law enforcement agencies with permission to access these databases. This strong working with the police has led to waste criminals being shut down faster.

Action has been backed up by changes in government policy to beef up the powers that regulators have to take on waste criminals, including commitments to reforming the carriers, brokers, dealers system and the introduction of mandatory waste tracking to improve regulation and enforcement of operators in the waste industry.

The Environment Agency has also begun innovative new ways of working with partners across Government and industry to stop waste crime. For instance, customs export data is now shared regularly by HMRC to help identify illegal waste exports. This data helps to give a much better picture of what is being exported where and by who to increase the intelligence picture and help identify and target criminality.

This intelligence-led approach means the Environment Agency has more information to focus on the worst criminals and the biggest environmental harms and threats across the country. This new sharing agreement with HMRC will enable efficient deployment of our resources through increased understanding of export routes and patterns so field officers can be sent out to intercept illegal shipments before they leave the country.


UK Economic Crime Unit Money Laundering AML

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