- The Spanish Civil Guard (Guardia Civil) discovered a company and an organised crime group involved in the illegal export of ozone-depleting substances
- Ten tons of the banned R-22 gas smuggled from the EU
- Ten people were involved in illegal earth-destroying activities
Spanish authorities have uncovered an organised crime group involved in the illegal trade of ozone-depleting substances. The specialised Environment and Urban Planning Unit of the Spanish Public Prosecutor’s Office coordinated the Nature Protection Service of the Spanish Civil Guard to carry out the investigation, which was supported by Europol and the French National Gendarmerie (Gendarmerie Nationale).
The investigation revealed that a company in Valencia, Spain, was involved in smuggling ten tons of R-22 refrigerant gas without a legal licence, bringing in €500 000 to €1 million in profit for the criminal gang.
Police launched their investigations in 2017 when the Spanish Ministry of Environment was informed of R-22 gas allegedly being exported to Panama illegally. The operation disclosed that the company repackaged R-22 refrigerant liquids that should have been sorted as hazardous waste. This led to around 10 000 kg of R-22 gas being traded illegally as regenerated gas. The investigation revealed that these ten tons of illegally exported gas would have released 17 000 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.
Since 2010, the use and introduction of ozone-depleting gases onto the market has been banned in the EU. The ban was strengthened in 2015 when even more by recycling and regenerated gas were added to the list. The investigation coincides with a report recently published by the United Nations, which states that air pollution affects 90 % of the earth’s population.
Europol has coordinated the operation since 2017, providing intelligence, analytical and operational support as well as liaising with Member States and non-EU countries. The investigation started as part of Project TECUM, which focuses on the (transnational) organised crime dimension of environmental crimes. Supported by Europol, the project is also a multi-tool methodology to ensure substantial improvement in investigation capacities and raise awareness of this crime to institutions and civil society.