Eight men and three companies have been ordered to pay over £220,000 for the part they played in the biggest criminal network to be uncovered and prosecuted by the Environment Agency for attempting to export broken electronics from the UK.
Hazardous televisions, fridges - some containing ozone depleting substances - and old computers, were among the 450 tonnes of electronics illegally exported to Nigeria, Ghana and Pakistan, while the gang pocketed money by claiming to be reusing the waste legally and safely.
The sentencing of three men at Basildon Crown Court this week is the second part of the most complex legal action ever taken by the Environment Agency. The three defendants were yesterday ordered to pay a total of £142,145 in fines, costs and confiscations.
Another two defendants are still to face sentencing and a third is still at large.
"The biggest" Environment Agency waste exports case
The prosecution had to be split in two as there were 15 defendants in total – 11 men and four companies. Five men and three companies were convicted after a six-week trial in November 2011. They were ordered to pay a total of £78,000. This could not be reported at the time because of reporting restrictions.
Andy Higham, National Environmental Crime Team Manager said: 'This is the biggest waste exports case the Environment Agency has taken and confirms the legal position on exporting electronic waste to developing countries. Sending hazardous waste to developing countries is unacceptable. Our Environmental Crime Teams will continue to track down and stop those who risk damaging people’s health and the environment.'
National Environmental Crime Team officers began a complex two-year investigation - code named Operation Boron - in 2008. The Environment Agency worked closely with HMRC, police, Nigerian and Belgian authorities following intelligence reports of illegal waste being sent overseas.
As investigators closed the net, a dozen 40-foot containers of hazardous electrical waste destined for Nigeria were stopped. Eight of the containers were intercepted by the Environment Agency at Felixstowe and Tilbury while four were repatriated from Belgium.
Concealed broken electronics
Containers were often ‘dressed’ with well wrapped and labelled items in the front few rows to conceal the broken electronics behind.
Officers moved in to make their first arrests in 2009 with court proceedings getting underway in 2010. The investigation uncovered waste collected from civic amenity sites and unsuspecting businesses across the UK being sent to Lagos, Nigeria.
As the investigation progressed it became clear that some of the defendants were still exporting containers despite being aware that their previous containers had been stopped. Two of the containers were stopped in September this year. All of the men ran sites at which the electrical items were loaded for export.
Jeff Warburton, Investigating Officer for Operation Boron said: 'This has been a long and complex investigation to bring to book criminals who have flouted the law, risking people’s health in developing countries and undercutting legitimate recycling businesses in the UK. Working in partnership with the authorities in Nigeria and Belgium we have successfully stopped these illegal exporters. But we won’t stop there - we will continue to track down environmental criminals.'
All defendants faced charges of shipping hazardous waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), for recovery to Nigeria, Ghana and Pakistan in breach of the Transfrontier Shipment of Waste Regulations 2007 and the European Waste Shipment Regulation 2006.
Waste crime is a global issue. Although functioning electronics can be exported to developing countries, sending hazardous waste to developing countries is illegal.
Sentenced yesterday after pleading guilty in November 2012
- Krassimer Vengelov, 50, of Burgess Hill, West Sussex, ran an electronic waste collection and treatment operation in Sussex – KSV Sussex. 15 containers were exported from his site. Total fines and confiscation orders of £112,015
- Michael Singh Aulakh, 28, of Sandon Rd Edgebaston Birmingham, ran the now dissolved Thorn International UK in Smethwick, Birmingham. Three containers were exported from his yard. Total fines and confiscation orders of £25,715
- Adrian Thompson, 33, of Crosskeys, Mattishall, Norfolk, ran Ady’s Skips and Recycling Services Limited which had a contract to collected televisions from 18 civic amenity sites in Norfolk. Total fines and confiscation orders of £4,415. He rented space in his yard to another defendants Stewart McGuigan
Still to face sentencing
- Terence Dugbo, 41, of High Ash, Avenue Leeds, ran a permitted site in Leeds, 12 of the containers were exported from his site. He will be sentenced in 2013 once confiscation proceedings are complete
- Prince Ibeh, 48, of Russell Gardens, Poole, will be sentenced on 18th January as he was sick and could not be at court. He ran a site in Lymington and traded under the name First Remove. He traded in electronic waste and loaded the items for export. This was one of the first containers targeted by the Agency
- Emmanuel Mekete, is still at large, he ran a site in Leicester from which two containers were exported to Nigeria and Pakistan
Convicted following a six week trial in November 2011
The below defendants subsequently appealed in September 2012 and the convictions were upheld.
- Orient Export Limited, run by Godwin Ezeemo, 58, and employee Chika Ezeemo, 32, (father and son) of Tryfan Close, Ilford, Essex, arranged for the export of 8 of the original containers stopped
- Nnamdi Ezechukwu, 45, of Glasgow Rd, Plaistow, London, had worked at Orient Export before setting up Reliance Export Limited, which was responsible for exporting 3 of the original containers stopped
- Joseph Benson, 52, of Broadstrood, Loughton, Essex, and his company BJ Electronics were picking up waste from civic amenity sites, and taking them back to his site in Walthamstow before being loaded for export
- Stuart McGuigan, 48, of Tower Close, Norwich, who selected items for export from those collected by Ady’s Skips. He was given a conditional discharge following a guilty plea in May 2011
Regulation details and notes
- The defendants were charged with a total of 39 offences contrary to Regulations 23 and 55 of the Transfrontier Shipment of Waste Regulations 2007
- Regulation 23 creates the offence of exporting prohibited waste to a developing country in breach of Article 36 of the European Waste Shipment Regulation 2006
- A number of the counts were taking into consideration for sentencing of Godwin Ezeemo, Nnamdi Ezechukwu, Terence Dugbo and Michael Aulakh. Chika Ezeemo was found not guilty of 6 like offences
Preventing e-waste export