Spain: Massive European Waste Smuggling Operation Exposed, 19 Arrested

Published: 22 December 2023

Europol Waste SpainMembers of the criminal syndicate have earned more than US$ 17.57 million since 2020 through illegal waste trafficking. (Photo: Ministerio del interior, License)

By Erika Di Benedetto

Spanish authorities arrested 19 members of an international criminal syndicate that trafficked tons of urban waste from Europe into Spain over a period of several years, making millions of euros in the process.

The country’s Interior Ministry said that “tons of waste of all kinds, including hazardous and toxic waste” were transported from Europe and were ending up in the Spanish cities of Zaragoza and Lleida. In addition to the syndicate’s members, six companies are under investigation for falsifying documentation and bypassing waste treatment procedures.

Investigators revealed that the group had been operating since 2020 and had earned more than 16 million euros (US$17.6 million) from accepting garbage from various French waste management companies.

Authorities became suspicious of the conspirators’ activities after border control officers noticed an unusually large number of garbage trucks crossing the border from France into the Iberian Peninsula.

Instead of following proper waste treatment protocols to minimize the waste’s environmental impact upon disposal, the loads were simply redirected to the dump in Zaragoza’s, a ministry spokesperson said.

To gain a viable client base, the syndicate’s members offered contracts to waste management companies at competitive rates. They then established several “intermediary companies,” which were supposed to manage the garbage’s proper disposal, but in reality, did nothing at all and acted as a facade to deceive environmental regulators.

Law enforcement conducted raids in the provinces of Huesca, Barcelona, and Teruel. During their searches, police seized cell phones, hard drives, laptops, pen drives, memory cards, databases, assorted documents, tens of thousands of euros in cash, and emails, all implicating the individuals and companies in the case.

Additionally, real estate properties and movable assets, including cars, motorcycles, and six heavy waste treatment machines, were frozen by authorities.

The investigation further revealed that the syndicate operated as part of an interconnected network of companies across southern France, Catalonia, and Aragon, all engaged in moving large volumes of European waste.

According to the Interior Ministry, the illegal waste market generates an estimated four to 15 billion euros ($4.3 billion to $16.4 billion) annually within the EU alone.

Environmental crime ranks as the fourth largest criminal enterprise in the world after drug trafficking, human trafficking, and counterfeiting.