At the beginning of the pandemic, Europol foresaw a global problem with illegal sanitary waste processing and disposal, which is why it launched Operation Retrovirus. Thirty countries collaborated in the operation, in addition to the Directorate-General for Environment of the European Commission, the Network for the Fight against Environmental Crime, Frontex, INTERPOL, the El PAcCTO project and the European Union Network for the Application and Compliance with Environmental Legislation (IMPEL). A total of 280,000 inspections and 102 arrests have been made and 819 organisations and individuals have been fined; 800,000 euros worth of assets have been seized and 22 consignments of waste have been dealt with.
Representatives of Europol and the European Commission representatives present the virtual activity
During the presentation, Patrícia Silveira, head of Europol’s Strategy and External Affairs Unit, highlighted the importance of international cooperation in the fight against organised crime on operations such as this, which have a noticeable impact on the environment and biodiversity. Vania Bonalberti, head of programmes for Latin America at the Directorate General for Cooperation and Development of the European Commission (DEVCO), explained that Operation Retrovirus is an excellent example of the positive, concrete results that can be achieved in difficult situations such as the current pandemic. She added that trust between people and institutions, coordination and cooperation between police, prosecutors and all institutions of the penal system are among many basic aspects that determine the success of common and sustainable responses in the medium and long term.
The head of Europol’s environmental team, José Alfaro, presented the results and reviewed all the activities, making particular mention of the EL PAcCTO programme, which, through the jaguar network, served as a bridge to connect with interlocutors in Latin America.
With Europol’s analytical and operational support, information exchanges were smooth, and investigations into the extraction of encrypted data on mobile devices were a resounding success.
The activity concluded with some words from EL PAcCTO representative Xavier Cousquer who emphasised that “EL PAcCTO has been committed to working on specific cases from the start, since it gives a clear view of the situation, and enables us to identify what works and how to be efficient to achieve more fluid, effective cooperation”.
Spain and Portugal linked to cases of sanitary waste traffic
In Spain, a case has been investigated of a company operating in several cities which also has links in Portugal, resulting in nine searches and 20 arrests for various offences. Inspections were carried out in 2,000 Portuguese companies, hospitals and health centres, resulting in 30 arrests and the seizure of assets worth almost 790,000 euros.
During the operation, inspections and checks were carried out at health waste treatment and transportation plants, which led to the rapid stoppage of traffic, storage, dumping and illegal transportation of health waste.