DOTCOM Training event in Rome Sep.2017

The first DOTCOM training event took place in the heart Rome on 26-29 September 2017. It was attended by a group of about thirty trainees – mostly government officials engaged in the fight against illegal waste trade from customs, environment, port, police, and prosecution authorities across Europe and West Africa. The remaining group comprised three main instructors; members of DOTCOM partner organisations, including UNU, Germany; Tecoms, Italy; PENAf, Ghana; and myself from CBRA. The members from UNU and Tecoms supported the basic training programme by assuming the role of trainers for a few sessions.

The keynote address was delivered by Mr Renato Nitti from the Public Prosecution Office in Bari, Italy. He referred to the dual objective of the training event: i) facilitate a shared understanding of the problem and to develop a common language and ii) identify and exchange good practices. He also highlighted the main challenges associated with port inspections and the many complexities surrounding the green, amber and red channel system in ports.

The training session was divided into nine modules, namely:

  • Legislative Landscape,
  • Problematic Waste Streams.
  • Smarter Inspections and Next Generation Compliance,
  • Inspections and Detection,
  • Investigation,
  • Intelligence,
  • Dealing with Illegal Shipments,
  • Prosecution, and
  • Sentencing.

The legal framework governing waste shipments is the Basel Convention and the Waste Framework Directive. Taking these as the legal basis, greater clarity was provided on what exactly constitutes waste by nailing down the key concepts and definitions of specific waste categories that serve as examples of problematic waste streams – for example refrigerants, end of life vehicles, end of life vessels, waste tyres, waste plastics, and waste paper. Concrete directions were provided for waste classification; distinction between hazardous and non-hazardous waste; and the legality of exportation of certain waste categories to OECD and specific non-OECD countries.

The presentation of smarter investigations and next generation compliance provided advanced information on new tools and technologies for surveillance, monitoring and detection. Risk assessment and targeted waste shipment inspection formed the central part of the discussion.

The module on Inspection and Detection focused on three phases: risk identification, risk analysis and evaluation, and prioritisation. Working with risk profiling and risk indicators were recommended. Some risk indicators can be determined from the description of the goods; the packaging style and labelling; and the detection of broken material, rupture, perforation, leakage, etc. Multi-agency response is considered a vital support in the detection of illegal shipments.

The aim of the Investigation module was to provide practical knowledge on investigations of illicit waste trade, and a greater understanding of the different types of investigations for waste shipments and management. Discussions centred on the investigative strategies, allocation of resources, and the different phases of both upstream and downstream investigations.  A few presentations shed light on new methods of data collection, analytical tools for investigation, phone data analysis, surveillance, wiretapping, and tracking devices. A new communications intelligence system called COMINT is a promising tool to help understand the ramifications of organised crime groups. Information is gathered from the communications of individuals, including telephone conversations, text messages and various types of online interactions.

Intelligence is the result of the evaluation of the relevant information available. This main subject of this module was strategic and operational intelligence to support waste enforcement. International information sharing tools, including the Interpol 24/7 system, the Europol Information system, WCO CENCOMM and WCO ENVIRONET were discussed. A few fictive cases were presented on how to deal with illegal shipments. As an important detail, strict adherence to safety measures is recommended during port inspections.

The session on prosecution relied on real-life cases in the UK to underline some challenges involved and practical ways to address those challenges. A moot court for a hypothetical legal case was held as an illustrative example.

The concluding module on sentencing drew attention to several ambiguities of the Basel Convention and the main difficulties associated with conviction and sentencing. Convictions appear to be very limited compared to the number of prosecutions. Fines are not dissuasive and prison sentences are often not effective. Targeting the illegal wealth obtained through dissuasive penalties in lieu of small fines and short prison sentences is considered a more effective approach. A useful tactic is to look at other violations connected with waste crime, e.g. fraud, forgery, money laundering, property damage, which would provide opportunities for stronger punishments.

Each module was accompanied by a set of group exercises related to case studies to reinforce practical knowledge. Participants were advised to download the mobile waste application called WATCH-IT that was jointly developed by the UN Environment, GRID-Arendal and DOTCOM Waste. It is a useful tool to assist law enforcement officers during their inspections of waste shipments, to guide them through complex decision-making processes, while assessing the legality of shipments. Participants received instructions on how to navigate through this app and flesh out relevant information.

To complement the basic training package, participants shared their personal experiences on particularly complicated cases. A Nigerian officer presented a real-life case of WEEE exportation to Nigeria that was mis-declared as used goods. A representative from the German environmental agency described a case of illegal export of mercury from Germany via Switzerland. An officer from the Waterways Police of Hamburg spoke about a complicated case of an end-of-life vehicle that shed light on the challenges of waste identification.  Guest speakers from Italy also made presentations of cases of cross-border waste trafficking in Naples – containers carrying radioactive waste, mercury and other toxic waste that pointed out the loopholes in national and EU legislation, and the absence of information exchange between countries. These were not isolated cases but linked with organisations managing illegal shipments, underpinning the importance of investigating the entire supply chain.

The icing on the cake was the visit to the Federal Customs Agency of Italy and the historical Port of Civita Vecchia that was founded during the Roman Empire period. At the customs office, we had the opportunity to get a close look at the AIDA information system that controls complex customs operations and automates the submission of declarations in an integrated manner. It is highly useful for the monitoring, risk analysis and profiling of maritime traffic. At the port, a large container holding non-functional electronic goods was displayed. The seized shipment had been destined for Benin and has remained there for two years.

The four-day long multi-disciplinary training session offered theoretical and practical knowledge of effective investigative strategies and informed decision making for waste crimes along the EU – West Africa route. Additionally, it served as a forum for a systematic exchange of ideas and best practices to enforce illicit management and illegal trade in waste. So far, the destination countries have been stronger on the enforcement side by presenting impressive intervention rates. Therefore, more effective enforcement from the origin countries is urgently required to curb this trans-national crime.


CBRA Blog on 29.10.2017 by Dr. Sangeeta Mohanty.


PS. Please sign up to the final conference of DOTCOM Waste, in Brussels, 23.11.2017