EU lawmakers approve tougher bloc-wide penalties for environmental crime

Credit: REUTERS/ALEKSANDRA SZMIGIEL

BRUSSELS, Feb 27 (Reuters) - The European Parliament on Tuesday approved tougher penalties for environmental crimes such as illegal timber trade, with offences punishable by up to 10 years in prison and company directors prosecuted for corporate wrongdoing.

"It is about time we fought cross-border crimes at the EU level with harmonised and dissuasive sanctions to prevent new environmental crimes. Under this agreement, polluters will pay," parliamentary rapporteur Antonius Manders said.

Applicable to the EU's 27 member states, the legislation targets offences such as illegal depletion of water resources, grave breaches of EU chemicals law, pollution caused by ships, and the destruction of ecosystems as a result of large-scale forest fires or widespread contamination of air, water and soil.

Manders said the new legislation - which updates a 2008 EU directive - people in leading positions at a company responsible for pollution can be prosecuted as well as the business itself.

Environmental crimes committed by individuals and company representatives will be punishable with imprisonment up to eight years, depending on how long-lasting, severe or reversible the damage is. Offences that cause the death of a person could draw a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

Offenders will be required to help rehabilitate a damaged environment and pay compensation.

For companies, fines will reach up to 5% of their annual worldwide turnover or alternatively up to 40 million euros ($43.41 million).

The new directive was adopted by 499 votes in favour, 100 against and 23 abstentions and will take force after publication in the EU Official Journal. Member states will have two years to incorporate the rules into their national legal systems.

Marie Toussaint, a Greens member of the Strasbourg-based parliament, said in a statement the EU was adopting one of the world's most ambitious pieces of legislation to combat environmental crime, but it did not go far enough.

"It is a pity the Council succeeded in introducing a fixed amount for companies, instead of a proportional amount based on turnover. This will lead to absurd situations that take no account of a company's financial situation."

($1 = 0.9215 euros)

(Reporting by Geert De Clercq; editing by Mark Heinrich)

((geert.declercq@tr.com;))

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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