Thousands of tons of illegal waste allegedly shipped between Finland and Estonia
The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has concluded a large-scale criminal investigation into aggravated impairment of the environment. The criminal investigation, involving three cases with an international dimension, started at the beginning of 2020. A press release on the progress made in the investigation was delivered in May 2021.
Individuals and companies from both Finland and Estonia are involved in the waste shipments investigated by Finnish and Estonian criminal investigation authorities. Suspects in the three cases are partly the same.
Up to 1,700 tons of construction waste unlawfully shipped from Finland to Estonia
In the first case involving aggravated impairment of the environment, construction waste was unlawfully shipped from Finland to Estonia. The illegal activity started to unravel in the autumn of 2019 as the Estonian authority in charge of international waste shipments in Estonia informed the Finnish Environment Institute of a waste shipment stopped and checked in the Port of Tallinn.
According to the shipping document, the shipment contained construction and demolition waste, but when it was checked, it was discovered that the waste was light-fraction shredder waste from mechanical processing of construction and demolition waste. As this type of waste cannot be recycled in the same way as construction and demolition waste, a separate waste shipment permit is required for shipping such waste from Finland.
The NBI started the criminal investigation into suspected aggravated impairment of the environment on the basis of a request for investigation made by the Finnish Environment Institute. Based on the criminal investigation, a Finnish company is suspected of having shipped approximately 1,700 tons of light-fraction shredder waste in 70 shipments without a correct permit between May and October 2019 before the company got caught and the permit was withdrawn.
Illegal oil waste shipped between Estonia and Finland
It was discovered during the criminal investigation into the shipping of light-fraction shredder waste that the suspects had also shipped about 860 tons of transformer oil, classified as hazardous waste, from Finland to Estonia illegally between May 2018 and November 2019. The Finnish Environment Institute made a request for investigation to the NBI and, based on the criminal investigation, the Finnish operator is suspected of aggravated impairment of the environment.
The third case involving suspected aggravated impairment of the environment concerns shipping roughly 670 tons of oil waste in 26 illegal shipments from Estonia to Finland. A Finnish company discovered in its internal audit that the company had received oil waste from Estonia in April and May 2020. The company reported the matter to the Finnish Environment Institute, which again made a request for investigation to the NBI. According to the Finnish Environment Institute, the company shipping the oil waste to Finland had not applied for a required permit.
– The Finnish company who detected the matter and reported it to the authorities is not suspected of any crime, says Head of Investigation, Senior Detective Superintendent Lauri Pajunoja of the National Bureau of Investigation.
Suspects deny any crime
Six individuals are suspected of criminal offences in Finland, and seven companies in Finland and Estonia are directly linked to the offences.
Jürgen Hüva, District Prosecutor of the Northern District Prosecutor's Office in Estonia leading the criminal investigation in Estonia, says that the current and former board members of various companies are suspected of having acted knowingly and together to avoid the waste shipment costs.
– All suspects deny having committed any crimes in the matter, says Head of Investigation Pajunoja.
The law governing the shipment and treatment of waste seeks to secure the treatment of waste in the country of destination so that it will not cause danger to public health and that the harm caused to the environment will be minimised. A case-by-case risk assessment and management planning, which are part of the environmental permit processing, are prerequisites for issuing the permit.
– When waste is shipped without a permit or based on an incorrect permit, the authorities cannot assess the treatment of the shipped waste or possible risks posed to the environment. This presents a risk that the waste is not handled properly.
For the purposes of the criminal investigation, the NBI set up a joint investigation team with Estonian criminal investigation authorities. In the joint investigation team, Finland and Estonia were, as agreed, responsible for investigating suspected offences committed by their own citizens.
– What we are here investigating here is a cross-border offence in which we need to gather evidence in both countries and in which we need to work in close cooperation with each other. For the purposes of the criminal investigation authorities of both countries, exchanging information through the joint investigation team is quicker and uncomplicated, says Hüva.
– Investigation into international shipments of illegal waste requires intensive exchange of information between national authorities. The criminal investigation was successful thanks to cooperation between the authorities, says Pajunoja.
The Finnish cases are now referred to the Prosecution District of Southern Finland for consideration of charges.