Between 1 and 30 March 2021, 300 agencies across 67 countries joined forces against marine pollution during the third global operation 30 Days at Sea. Europol and Frontex co-ordinated the European leg of the operation, as part of the EMPACT action plan on environmental crime, while INTERPOL co-ordinated the global activities. The actions led to the identification of numerous crimes ranging from illegal discharge to waste trafficking and the investigation of thousands of suspects worldwide.
Frontline action followed five months of intelligence collection and analysis, enabling participating countries to identify hotspots and targets.
The simultaneous actions in March led to:
- 34,000 inspections at sea and inland waterways, coastal areas and ports;
- 1,600 marine pollution offences detected in total;
- 500 illegal acts of pollution committed at sea, including oil discharges, illegal shipbreaking and sulphur emissions from vessels;
- 1,000 pollution offences in coastal areas and in rivers, including illegal discharges of contaminants;
- 130 cases of waste trafficking through ports.
By using INTERPOL’s wide range of databases and analytical capabilities, countries were able to connect pollution crime with other serious crimes such as fraud, corruption, tax evasion, money laundering, piracy, and illegal fishing.
Criminals attempt to abuse the pandemic also at sea
With many enforcement resources being reassigned to tackle the pandemic, criminals have been quick to exploit growing vulnerabilities in different crime areas including environmental crime. Inspections uncovered typical forms of marine pollution crime, from vessel discharges to waste trafficking by sea, but also criminal trends that have been growing amid the pandemic. Growing trends included COVID-19 disposable items such as masks and gloves, with 13 cases involving medical waste opened as a result of the operation.
A major criminal network trafficking plastic waste between Europe and Asia was exposed, triggering cooperation between authorities from both regions. So far, 22 suspects have been arrested and thousands of tonnes of waste have been prevented from being illegally shipped to Asia. It is highly likely that the waste would have likely been dumped there, contaminating soils and generating considerable marine litter.
Several countries from Europe, Asia and Africa reported illegal shipments of contaminated or mixed metal waste falsely declared as metal scraps. In one case, the Italian Coast Guard seized and prevented 11 000 tonnes of metal scraps mixed with plastic, rubber, mineral oil and other contaminants from being loaded onto bulk carriers headed for Turkey. Namibia, the Philippines and Croatia also reported cases of illegal waste shipments from Europe.
Global coordination to counter the pollution of our seas
Europol and FRONTEX (European Border and Coast Guard Agency) coordinated the European leg of 30 Days at Sea 3.0, while INTERPOL’s Environmental Security Programme coordinating the operation globally.
Europol’s Executive Director Catherine De Bolle said: “Marine pollution is a serious threat, which endangers not only the environment but our health and in the long run our global economy. Criminals do not care about the environment; they do not think of tomorrow, but only of increasing their profits on the back of our society. Consolidated law enforcement efforts such as the operation 30 Days at Sea are critical to tackle these borderless crimes and protect our environmental heritage for generations to come.”
INTERPOL Secretary General Jürgen Stock said: “The threat of pollution crime is constantly evolving, endangering the air we breathe, our water and soil. Although this is the third edition of 30 Days at Sea, it is never the same exercise.
It is thanks to a global yet agile network that we have seen the number of inspections more than double since the first edition: a clear sign that the international community will not stand for criminal attacks on our environment.”
“Environmental crime is one of many criminal activities Frontex targets as part of our mission as the European Border and Coast Guard Agency. This is our contribution to the protection of the environment. I’m proud that, as part of 30 Days at Sea, Frontex aerial and maritime assets monitored nearly 1 000 vessels,” said Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri.
All three editions of Operation 30 Days at Sea 3.0 have been carried out with funding from the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad).
17 EU Member States: Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden
50 non-EU countries: Angola, Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Cameroon, Canada, Chilie, China, Cote d’Ivoire, Dem Rep Congo, Ecuador Ethiopia, Fiji, Georgia, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea Bissau, Honduras, India, Israel, Kenya, Kuwait, Liberia, Malaysia, Maldives, Namibia, Nigeria, Norway, Philippines, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Thailand, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Zimbabwe Headquartered in The Hague, the Netherlands, we support the 27 EU member states in their fight against terrorism, cybercrime and other serious and organised forms of crime. We also work with many non-EU partner states and international organisations. From its various threat assessments to its intelligence-gathering and operational activities, Europol has the tools and resources it needs to do its part in making Europe safer.
In 2010 the European Union set up a four-year Policy Cycle to ensure greater continuity in the fight against serious international and organized crime. In 2017 the Council of the EU decided to continue the EU Policy Cycle for the 2018 - 2021 period. It aims to tackle the most significant threats posed by organised and serious international crime to the EU. This is achieved by improving and strengthening cooperation between the relevant services of EU member states, institutions and agencies, as well as non-EU countries and organisations, including the private sector where relevant. Environmental crime is one of the priorities for the Policy Cycle.
Spanish and UK police forces recover €6 million in two-year long Ponzi scheme investigation
Hundreds of victims of a €15 million Ponzi scheme may soon recover up to 40% of their losses as a result of an international law enforcement effort to recover the ill-gotten funds.
The co-operation between the Spanish regional Catalan Police (Mossos d’Esquadra) and the UK West Yorkshire Police, facilitated by Europol, has made it possible for the Spanish authorities to recover over €6 million in the framework of an investigation into a Ponzi scheme exceeding €15m with more than 200 victims.
An investigation was launched at the beginning of March 2019 after a complaint was filed in Gerona, Spain, after the main suspect disappeared. Several other complaints soon followed, describing a pyramid fraud committed by the missing suspect, a Spanish national residing in the UK who duped his victims into investing in seemingly secure investments with high returns.
Returning stolen funds
Timely investigative support is vital in asset recovery cases that cross multiple borders in order to locate, freeze, confiscate and finally repatriate stolen assets.
Europol’s European Financial and Economic Crime Centre (EFECC) supported the case from the onset and brought together the Spanish and British investigators at its headquarters to discuss procedural requirements and identify a clear way forward. Its asset recovery experts there after organised the intensive exchange of information needed to prepare for the confiscation of the ill-gotten assets.
The asset recovery approach which was in this case a major angle of the investigation clearly paid off: over £642 000 was held in UK bank accounts from the outset and frozen to ensure it was secured for confiscation. The British investigators were also able to successfully trace back a consequent amount of the diverted funds which had been invested in online gambling companies, a luxury vehicle, jewellery and IT equipment.
After two years of intense cooperation, the West Yorkshire Police transferred at the end of April 2021 more than €6 million to the Spanish judicial authorities to be used, if the judicial process so decides, to compensate the victims. The main suspect has been custody since 2019 by order of the Court of Gerona.
Confiscation is a strategic priority in the EU's fight against organised crime. The recovery of proceeds from crime deprives criminals of what they have strived to acquire and strengthens the notion that “crime should not pay”. The faster the tracing of assets derived from crime is, the more effective the confiscation and recovery of criminal profits can be. Europol’s EFECC helps investigators across Europe in identifying assets that have been illegally acquired on their territories and facilitates the exchanges of relevant information at European level.
Four arrested in takedown of dark web child abuse platform with some half a million users
Four have been arrested in a multi-agency operation sparked by a German investigation into one of Europe’s most prolific child sexual abuse platforms on the dark web. These arrests were made in Germany (3) and Paraguay (1) earlier this month. The arrested individuals – all German nationals, had various roles in relation to the site seized. The dark web platform, known as Boystown, has been taken down by an international taskforce set up by the German Federal Criminal Police (Bundeskriminalamt) which included Europol and law enforcement agencies from the Netherlands, Sweden, Australia, Canada and the United States. This site focused on the sexual abuse of children and had 400 ,00 registered users when it was taken down. Several other chat sites on the dark web used by child sexual offenders were also seized on the same occasion. The case illustrates what Europol is seeing in child sexual abuse offending: online child offender communities on the dark web exhibit considerable resilience in response to law enforcement actions targeting them.
Their reactions include resurrecting old communities, establishing new communities, and making strong efforts to organise and administer them. The image and video data seized during this investigation will be used for Victim Identification Taskforces organised on a regular basis at Europol. More arrests and rescues are to be expected globally as police worldwide examine the intelligence packages compiled by Europol.
The following authorities took part in this investigation: Germany: Federal Criminal Police (Bundeskriminalamt) The Netherlands: National Police (Politie) Sweden: National Police (Polisen) Australia: Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE), Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Queensland Police Service (QPS) United States: Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Canada: Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Better Regulation: Joining forces to make better EU laws and to prepare for the future
The Commission has adopted a Communication on Better Regulation, proposing several improvements to the EU law-making process. To foster Europe's recovery, it is more important than ever to legislate as efficiently as possible, while making EU laws better adapted to tomorrow's needs.
Interinstitutional Relations and Foresight Vice President Maroš Šefčovič (pictured) said: “The Commission already has one of the best Better Regulation systems in the world but we still need to do more. Therefore, we are stepping up efforts to simplify EU legislation and reduce its burden, while making better use of strategic foresight and supporting sustainability and digitalisation. To succeed, however, all stakeholders must work together on high-quality EU policymaking that will translate into a stronger, more resilient Europe.''
Cooperation among the EU institutions, with member states and stakeholders, including social partners, businesses and civil society, is key. To help face current and future challenges, the Commission has proposed the following actions:
- Removing obstacles and red tape that slow down investments and building of 21st century infrastructure, working with member states, regions and key stakeholders.
- Simplifying public consultations by introducing a single ‘Call for Evidence', on the improved Have Your Say portal.
- Introducing a ‘one in, one out' approach, to minimise burdens for citizens and businesses by paying special attention to the implications and costs of applying legislation, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises. This principle ensures that any newly introduced burdens are offset by removing equivalent burdens in the same policy area.
- Mainstreaming the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, to ensure that all legislative proposals contribute to the 2030 sustainable development agenda.
- Improving the way in which Better Regulation addresses and supports sustainability and digital transformation.
- Integrating strategic foresight into policymaking to ensure it is fit for the future, by for instance, taking into account emerging megatrends in the green, digital, geopolitical and socio-economic contexts.
Better Regulation is a shared objective and responsibility of all EU institutions. We will reach out to the European Parliament and the Council regarding their efforts to assess and monitor the impact of EU legislation and EU spending programmes. In addition, we will cooperate more closely with local, regional and national authorities, and social partners on EU policymaking.
Some of the new elements of this Communication have already started in practice, such as the work of the Fit for Future Platform, which provides advice on ways to make EU legislation easier to comply with, efficient and fit for the future. Others will be implemented in the coming months. This year will see, among other things:
- The 2020 Annual Burden Survey, outlining the results of the Commission's burden reduction efforts.
- The revised Better Regulation guidelines and toolbox to take into account the new elements of the Communication, providing concrete guidance to European Commission services when preparing new initiatives and proposals as well as when managing and evaluating existing
The Commission carried out a stocktaking of its better regulation agenda in 2019, confirming that the system is broadly functioning well, while needing improvements to reflect experience.
The EU has a long history on evidence-based policymaking, including reducing regulatory burdens, starting in 2002. It includes regular evaluations of existing laws, a very advanced system of impact assessment, a top of the class stakeholders' consultation approach and a comprehensive burden reduction programme (REFIT).
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