The Illegal Trade in Chemicals

Selected regional enforcement efforts

INTERPOL and the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation – Europol – have each conducted sweeping enforcement actions in recent years. The illegal trade in waste and chemicals can occur both between and within regions. Intra-regional trade is common, for example, in South-East Asia and the Pacific, Central and Southern Asia, North Africa, the Caucasus and the Middle East, but is less likely to attract attention, and may indicate that awareness of the illegal chemical trade remains low among enforcement authorities. Europol conducted Operation Silver Axe I, II, III and IV a series of four enforcement actions against the illegal trade in chemicals. The first of these, over 12 days in late 2015, included the participation of seven countries and the seizure of 190 tonnes of illegal or counterfeit pesticides (Europol 2015). The violations included infringements of intellectual property rights, false declarations and unknown products potentially containing unauthorized chemicals. The subsequent operations focused on the same types of violations. For Operation Silver Axe I, Europol cooperated with CropLife International, the European Crop Protection Association and the European Crop Care Association in the preparation and execution of the operation. In the next two operations, the cooperating parties expanded to include the Directorate General on Health and Food Safety, the European Anti-Fraud Office, INTERPOL and FAO. Operation Silver Axe II included the participation of 17 countries over 10 days, and resulted in the seizure of 122 tonnes of illegal pesticides (Europol 2017). Operation Silver Axe III grew to include 27 countries over 20 days, and netted 360 tonnes in seizures (Europol 2018). The 2019 operation yielded550 tonnes of seizures of pesticides (Europol 2019), and the violations included infringements of intellectual property rights, false declarations and unknown products potentially containing unauthorized chemicals. Overall, Operation Silver Axe stands as example of successful international cooperation among law enforcement agencies. Reporting on the prosecution of cases remains difficult as appeals drag on. The European Network of Prosecutors for the Environment work mostly within the context of non- compliance with waste shipment regulations, while global analyses and regional enforcement efforts such as Operation Operation Silver Axe

Silver Axe demonstrate that the illegal trade in pesticides and mercury is widespread.

Operation 30 Days of Action

INTERPOL is the world’s largest international police organization, facilitating cross-border police cooperation among its 194 member countries to prevent and combat international crime. In combating environmental crime, INTERPOL provides technical assistance, law enforcement contacts and operational and investigative support to disrupt illegal transboundary movements of waste and marine pollution crime, among other environmental crimes. In 2017, INTERPOL coordinated Operation 30 Days of Action, the largest law enforcement operation ever led against waste crimes. The Operation was initiated by the INTERPOL Pollution Crime Working Group in response to a call from the global law enforcement community to gather more information on waste crimes and to encourage international cooperation in the fight against illegal waste activities. The operation targeted illegal waste and chemical shipments including expired medicines, paint and pesticides. This global operation involved police, customs, and border and environmental agencies from 43 countries (INTERPOL 2017). The operation uncovered 664 cases of criminal and administrative waste violations, of which 238 were cases of on-site waste activities and 423 were cases of waste shipments (3 cases were unspecified). As a result of the operation, 483 individuals and 264 companies were reported and over 1.5 million tonnes of illicit waste were detected (INTERPOL 2017). Most of the INTERPOL Operation 30 Days of Action cases were in the illegal waste trade. The successes here reflect the positive result of global awareness of illegal waste trade, particularly regarding e-waste, and of all the efforts in training, information exchanges and capacity-building of enforcement authorities. These successful criminal investigations, however, focused on waste, and consequently shed little light on the illegal trade in chemicals. The results of the Operation 30 Days of Action reveal some emerging trends in the illegal trade in waste and chemicals, in particular, criminal and administrative violations related to fuel, hazardous medical waste, and pharmaceutical waste among other illegal shipments (INTERPOL 2017).

The Illegal Trade in Chemicals


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