January 25, 2022

From prison closes for the “waste mafia” in the South-East

Fines of up to 1 million euros and up to two years in prison for one of the “brains” of the “waste mafia” : this is what the justice decided on Tuesday, December 14, at the end of the unprecedented trial which opened on Monday, November 22, before the court of Draguignan (Var). A week of hearing for a large-scale environmental attack, unprecedented in this type of case. At the helm, eleven defendants and seven construction, public works and transport companies from the Var and the Alpes-Maritimes, including one without real existence, were tried for abandonment and irregular management of waste in an organized group on twenty-one sites of the ‘countryside.

Between 2017 and 2020, a major survey with the code name “Burned Earth” revealed a vast system of illegal dumping of waste from construction sites in the Var and the Alpes-Maritimes. Called “waste mafia” by the prosecution, the defendants won clearing contracts, such as that of the Nice airport site or the Pôle Emploi in Cannes, by posting very competitive prices. Instead of taking this rubble to the recycling center and paying for its storage as required by law, they dumped it in the hundreds of thousands of tonnes in the wilderness. Today, some sites are irreparably soiled and disfigured by waste mixed with bitumen and plastic, even mercury, arsenic or lead.

“With a shotgun”

Their technique, deciphered at length at the hearing, was simple: to offer deliveries “Free” of topsoil to individuals who were looking to level their land, expand their vineyard or grow vegetable gardens, through classified ads on Leboncoin or Facebook. Instead of the agreed two or three trucks, the owners saw their lots turn into real “Unwanted”, seeing hundreds of heavy goods vehicles unloading rubble from the region’s construction sites. To an owner of polluted land who tried to protest, an accused explained: “You don’t know our background. In the construction industry, we solve problems with a gun. ”

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The majority of those involved had to respond to charges of organized fraud, death threats or violent extortion. The “mastermind”, a 34-year-old man with a criminal record already provided, was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment, two of which were suspended. Four others were sentenced to prison terms ranging from twenty-four months to thirty months. The defendants, as well as the seven companies, will also have to pay heavy fines: the company Esterel Environnement, in particular, will have to deposit 1 million euros within one year, for the restoration of the land it has polluted. In total, 3.28 million euros will be consigned out of the 6 million estimated for land rehabilitation. The court also awarded damages to several civil party associations, including France Nature Environnement, as well as to some of the injured owners.

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