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Organized Environmental Crime

Organized Environmental Crime

By Hans-Ulrich Helfer

Too much garbage in Europe

The EC countries produce up to 150 million tons of highly poisonous waste a year but only about 15% were disposed within their territory; the rest of it went through dubious channels in poor third-world countries. Switzerland for example leaves about 300.000 tons of industrial waste a year and at the time exports roughly about 125.000 tons of toxic waste. The present waste management can be divided into four groups

¨ Contaminated soil and disposal sites

  • Garbage and sewage sludge
  • Toxic waste
  • Radioactive waste

Organized environmental crime takes place in the absolute seclusion. Mostly neither the racketeer nor the deliverer of garbage is interested in their business activities being known. This is often the case when authorities and companies abstain from a report to the police for reasons of loss of image. Nowadays no community or famous big company can afford being involved in an environmental scandal.

The world-wide organized environmental crime's billion turnover allows profits of millions for single deals and is therefore comparable to drug trafficking. According to the President of the Italian chamber of commerce the Italian organized crime turned over about 100 billion Franks in 1993. This includes drug trafficking worth 16 billion Franks as the main business. Already on the third place - behind usury and real estate trade - follows the illegal garbage traffic.

Working methods of the perpetrators

In criminal garbage elimination exists a really important fact which is the changing of commercial basic laws. The dubious traders do not have to pay for the goods - as usual for other business - but receive their money for the removal of the unpopular trash. The price for the disposal can vary between e.g. 300 Franks a ton of sewage sludge up to 45.000 Franks for a ton of expired medicine and consists of the costs for the

¨ Trader

¨ Transportation

¨ Customs clearance

¨ Processing and

¨ the ultimate buyer

Particular actions are necessary for the illegal waste management. The basic knowledge of this facilitates the early identification of Mafia-like activities and groups.

Important working methods are:

False declaration

Garbage and sewage sludge are being mixed with toxic waste and declared as building material, fuel substitute or fertilizer to avoid state-run controls. Garbage mixed with toxic waste is particularly exported into countries of Eastern Europe or the third-world, where it will be disposed under accepting ecological damages.


Toxic waste is being mixed and diluted to fall below the limits.

False documents

Accompanying transportation documents and customs papers are deliberately forged or falsified to receive exportation or transit authorization.

Incorrect or inadequate processing

The buyers of garbage and toxic waste pretend to having processed or recycled the materials.

Costs of transportation

The traders calculate costs of transportation for a distant treatment place even though the goods never arrived there but disappeared close to the place of production.


Considerable amounts of money are paid to receive orders or to deposit garbage and toxic waste illegally. The representatives of illegal waste management particularly offer bribes to place persons in the proximity of their victims for controlling purposes.

The companies that are working in the field of environmental crimes adapt themselves very well to the economical conditions. In a lot of cases the control mechanism will be turned the other way round in that sense that it belongs to the modus operandi always to place contact persons close to the victims. They are ordered to influence their target person or company by skilful action and to warn the perpetrators a.s.o. Therefore, besides fraud, forgery and coercion organized environmental crime is always linked with active and passive bribe.


During the last few years also the authorities in the German speaking area had to take note of the fact that representatives of the organized crime with all its manifestation became active. So far organized environmental crime has not yet or not sufficiently been aware of as a part of organized crime. The significance of this manifestation is much bigger and important as commonly known.

Ó Hans-Ulrich Helfer, 27 August 1998. (http://www.presdok.ch)


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).