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From illegal waste disposal to agroindustry to illegal construction and theft of archaeological items. Eco-mafia is a growing global industry, as evidenced by the joint UNEP (the UN agency for ecology) and Interpol report, released on the World Environment Day. The turnover is scary: in 2016, it will reach 258 billion dollars, an increase of 26% compared to 2014.

The turnover grows on the entire planet, faster than GDP, and transforms crimes against the environment into the fourth most profitable unlawful activity in the world, after drug trafficking, counterfeiting, and human trafficking. An insult to our “common house” – as it was called by Pope Francis in the encyclical Praised Be -, which has been sold off and destroyed in the name of profit. In the last decade, revenues from these offenses have increased on average by 5-7% per year, more than the global gross domestic product.

According to UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner, “the large sums of money generated by these crimes allow sophisticated gangs to stay in business, increasing insecurity in the world. The result – he added – is not only devastating for the environment and local economies, but also for all the people threatened by these criminal organizations. The world must come together to adopt a strong national and international action and put an end to environmental crimes”.

In fact, the report advises governments to adopt strong actions, rules, and sanctions (including measures aiming at destroying tax havens), increase in funds to contrast them, incentives and economic support to give alternatives to people who earn a living from these crimes. “Eco-mafia, that is, the organized crime whose illegal activities damages and poisons the territory – Italian Minister of Environment Gian Luca Galletti said on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of his ministry – are a nature massacre and a threat to public health. The inhabitants of the so-called ‘land of fires’ know it, and we owe them the defense against gangs and the recovery of their land.”

In Italy, crimes against the environment were introduced into the Criminal Code with the Law 68 of 2015. A watershed that could reverse Italy’s dangerous trend in recent years. In 2014, around 30,000 crimes were committed in the major areas identified by Legambiente, an association committed to environmental issues.

Let us consider them more closely:

WASTE: The illegal disposal of industrial waste is the most dangerous field of eco-mafia activities and one of the most profitable types of illegal business. Instead of being handled in accordance with the law, which guarantees its disposal while safeguarding the safety of the environment and of the citizen’s health, special waste is hidden and poisons the air, contaminates aquifers, pollutes rivers and crops. Thus, it threatens the citizens’ health and contaminates food with heavy metals, dioxins, and other carcinogens.

CONCRETE: Illegal construction is a phenomenon that destroys the most beautiful places in Italy, artifacts that are often left unfinished, at the stage of basic structures, villas and hotels that privatize entire parts of the beach, which arise right in the riverbeds, in areas where there is a high hydrogeological risk. It is tightly connected to illegal quarries, earth moving, concrete, and clan business.

AGRI-FOOD: The food chain is where the greatest number of violations at the hands of environmental crime is registered. Illegal activities in agriculture – just think of frauds to obtain public funding in support of a certain kind of crops or of the social scourge of illegal hiring sweatshops that exploits illegal work, but also of the transport of goods, up to the sale of those products on the supermarket counters and to catering-related business.

ARCHEOMAFIA: The first link in the chain are the so-called “tomb raiders”, those who plunder sites, stealing pots, vases, figurines, coins and precious fragments. Then, there are their senders, the researchers who take care of placing those goods on the black market, and finally the customers. Often, this chain ends in the showcases of major international museums; often the pieces go with false documents that certify their legitimate origin.

ANIMALS: The phenomenon concerns the market of dogs and cats with fake pedigrees or exotic animals, poaching and wildlife smuggling, illegal betting on clandestine horse races (one third of the total turnover) and dogfights. And let us not forget the racket that manages the fish market, illegal slaughter, cattle theft, and food adulteration.

FIRES: In most cases, arson is connected to speculative interests concerning construction. Moreover, in some regions the number of fires allows to hire temporary forest workers. More than once, fires were caused by the same people who get paid to extinguish them.

GREEN ECONOMY: It may be considered the new frontier of eco-mafia. Contracts for the construction of wind turbines, installing solar panels and the like are very inviting for the clans. Several lines of investigation have been opened to try to identify possible infiltration of organized crime in these activities.

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