Italy proposes green criminality offence

Tough penalties proposed for environmental damage, while green group profiles "ecomafia"

The concept of "environmental crime" could be introduced into Italy's penal code under proposals released last week by the Italian environment ministry. Under the proposal, it would become possible for the state to take criminal proceedings against individuals or companies damaging the environment.

According to the ministry's plan, introducing damaging substances into the environment should carry a conviction of up to six years and a fine of up to IL50m (Ecu25,600). Sanctions would be increased up to ten years' detention and IL200m in the most serious cases. However, offenders assisting the authorities to remedy damage, could have their sentences reduced by one third. The draft proposal also deals specifically with illicit waste trafficking and with the involvement of organised crime in these activities.

The government's announcement coincided with the release last week of environmental group Legambiente's latest annual report on the "ecomafia" - the involvement of criminal groups in environmentally damaging activities. The report estimates that organised crime does some IL33bn of business in unauthorised building and waste disposal. It suggests that the number of Mafia clans involved doubled from 1996 to 1997.

Nearly 30,000 environmental offences were committed in 1997, the report estimates. Nearly half were in the southern regions of Campania, Apulia, Calabria and Sicily, where organised crime is traditionally strong. But the region around Rome, Lazio, is also high up on the list (ENDS Daily 19 January). Both industrial and domestic waste are the target of illegal disposal activities. Organised crime is also involved in the trafficking of materials collected for recycling, Legambiente alleges.

The situation is particularly serious for hazardous waste, the most harmful for the environment and the most lucrative for criminals. A 1997 report issued by the environment ministry disclosed that 1.6m tonnes of hazardous waste was disposed of outside its region of origin, while no Italian region claimed to have disposed of more hazardous waste than it generated. According to Legambiente, this paradox leads to the logical conclusion that there is a "ghost" region, run by criminals, where nearly half of all the hazardous waste produced in Italy ends up.

Legambiente sees Italy's failure to set up regional offices of the environment agency (ANPA) in most of the south (ENDS Daily 18 February) as another important factor in determining the ecomafia's success. At the ANPA's annual conference, which is taking place in Florence this week, the issue of insufficient controls and delays in setting up local offices are both expected to be discussed.

Follow Up:
Legambiente, tel: +39 6 862 681; Italian environment ministry, tel: +39 6 70361.

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