Green corruption More than “victimless” crimes

Perfect accomplice of eco-criminals, corruption allows those involved in illegal activities in the environmental field to make significant profits at the expense of the environment and citizens. Exploiting essential and inalienable goods of the community, the so-called phenomenon of “green corruption” represents a particularly serious form of corruption. In fact, illicit activities regarding the environmental sector pose a major threat to the preservation of the environment and to the health and safety of citizens, but also have a disastrous impact on the economy.

With a view to fill the knowledge gap on the relationship between corruption and environmental crimes, UNICRI initiated the research “Green Corruption – The case in Italy”. The research(1) provides an accurate view on the phenomenon in the specific case of Italy; thanks to the important cooperation of many Italian law enforcement and judicial institutions, it analyses some of the many and various investigations conducted by the main Italian law enforcements agencies involved in the fight against corruption, environmental crimes and other related illegal activities. The research also provides an accurate overview of the relevant legal framework and mechanisms and presents some of the initiatives aimed at preventing and repressing environmental corruption.
More than “victimless” crimes
Although often referred to as “victimless crimes”, the devastating effects of corruption and environmental crimes on the Italian society and economy do not have to be underestimated. The estimated economic loss caused by green corruption in Italy amounts to circa 10 billion euro per year in terms of gross domestic product, circa 170 euro per year per capita income and more than 6 percent in terms of productivity. However, one should not forget the indirect damages including its impact on youth unemployment, but also its effect on the credibility of the economy.

Undoubtedly, the economic damages are not comparable to the risks environmental crimes pose to the health and safety of citizens. Among the social and health costs of green corruption are the environmental disasters, such as landslides, caused by indiscriminate use of land and amplified by widespread corrupt practices.
The extensive corruption in the construction sector, on the other hand, has diminished earthquakes resilience of buildings. In addition, illicit waste disposal in the provinces of Naples and Caserta, the so-called “Earth of Fires”, caused an increase in cancer diseases and congenital malformations within the region.

Recurring aspects of green corruption
The analysis of the judicial investigations in UNICRI’s publication aims to point out the dynamics, the situational background and the key actors involved in the illegal activities. The cases taken into consideration allowed the identification of a number of characteristics of green corruption in Italy.

Three sectors appear to be more exposed to environmental criminality, namely the waste management, the construction sector’s industry and the renewable energy sector. Throughout these sectors, there are several recurring aspects: the presence of significant availability of money, the trans-regionality of those involved, and no geographical limitations of the operations. It also appears that, despite the presence of a variety of actors, public officials are always involved in the corrupt practices.

The links beween corruption and environmental crimes appears to be favoured by a number of circumstances. First of all there are several conditions that favour the recurrence to corruption: in particular a high tax burden, an excessive regulation of the legal markets and excessive bureaucratic regulation in general, and high public spending. In addition, green corruption seems to thrive well due to a high level of moral acceptance and a low sense of statehood, vulnerabilities in control and authorisation systems, and the existence of complex criminal systems, mafia and non, able to condition the normal functioning of democracy. Moreover, from a legal point of view, the link between corruption and environmental crimes is facilitated by a legal approach that in Italy – as in most OECD countries – is formalistic, i.e. focused on legislation that would punish environmental crimes on the basis of abstract danger, regardless of the actual damage caused.

The judicial investigations examined in “Green Corruption – The case in Italy” demonstrate that environmental corruption is a poison that impacts on the whole country; the analysed cases involve 15 Italian regions and have been addressed by 34 public prosecutor’s offices evenly distributed between the North (13), Centre (11) and South (10) of Italy. Although the data analysed by geographic area show on the one hand a record for number of arrests in the North-Western regions (39.9%), on the other hand, it shows the incidence of the phenomenon in the regions traditionally affected by the mafia (Campania, Apulia, Calabria and Sicily), with 36.9% of the national total of arrest warrants.

The “ecomafia”
As suggested by the above-mentioned figures, organised crime networks appear to be environmental crimes key actors. Italian mafia groups, as well as other criminal groups, are keen on controlling public resources by influencing the activities of the public administration, both at local, provincial, regional and national level.

Among the numerous examples illustrating the involvement of organised crime networks in environmental crimes, it is worth mentioning the anti-mafia investigation whose code name was Araba Fenice. In December 2013, this investigation led to the arrest of 47 people in Calabria(2) for various offences, including criminal association with the mafia, fraudulent transfer of assets and illegal financial activities. This specific case saw the involvement of the Calabrian mafia in the construction sector’s industry: some of the clans of the ‘ndrangheta had created a joint criminal group which dealt mainly with the construction of private building. As a result of the investigation, 14 companies and a total of 90 million euro were seized, and 90 raids were carried out in Calabria, Piedmont, Veneto, Lombardia and Apulia.

The way forward
Over the last years, a number of initiatives, tools and databases have been put forward with a view to fight green corruption. Examples include the REBUILD and the REVISUAL systems, which are information systems that provide valuable information on companies and that can serve as monitoring tools for the law enforcement agencies. Another essential prevention tool is the Carta di Pisa. This code of ethics was adopted in 2012 by the Association Avviso Pubblico, the Italian national network of local entities for the civil training against the mafia, with a view to promote the rule of law and transparency of local authorities.

In the research report, a number of suggestions to the sectors’ policy makers are put forward. Firstly, the existing environmental standards, which are currently scattered in several texts, codes and decrees, should be systematised. A specific section on crimes against the environment should be inserted in the Penal Code, providing effective and proportionate penalties as requested by the European Directive 2008/99/EC on the protection of the environment through criminal law. In addition, a legislative simplification of the processes regarding environmental protection is needed, in order to make the system less vulnerable to corruption.

In terms of repression, it is necessary to improve the institutional collaboration between the different agencies and stakeholders involved in environmental protection, which are currently characterized by a kind of mutual distrust impeding effective collaboration and exchange of information. In addition, virtuous public-private partnerships regarding environmental protection should be promoted.
It is to be noted that Italy has recently approved a new law to counter corruption (legge 27 maggio 2015, n. 69). The new law, which will be enforced starting from 14 June, aims at fighting corruption and in particular is addressed to corrupted public officials, companies, and mafia-type organizations. The new law will increase sanctions and monitoring mechanisms with specific attention paid to the Government’s monitoring of corruption related to crimes against the environment.

The investigations UNICRI analysed thanks to the availability and cooperation of the Italian authorities shed lights on a phenomenon that affects many countries and many actors. The case of Italy offers many important insights in the modus operandi and the enabling conditions of green corruption. It is clear that corruption in the environmental field, by draining resources from the legal circuit and channelling them into the illegal circuit, impoverishes the country on the economic, political, cultural and environmental level. It poses a serious threat to the credibility of the economy, the stability of public finances, and domestic and international investments, but also puts the health and safety of citizens at risk. Consequently, green corruption is an issue that should occupy an important position in the political agenda, not only in Italy but in all countries affected by this phenomenon.

1 Funded by Compagnia di San Paolo, the research was conducted from October 2013 to March 2014 and finalized in May 2014.

2 Calabria is a Region of Southern Italy. The ‘Ndrangheta, one of the main Mafia-type organization is based in this Region.