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Supreme Court applies criminal law to environmental data fraud

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As reported by The Supreme People’s Court of the People’s Republic of China, falsifying environmental data to avoid pollution regulations is now a criminal offense.

It is the first time that such actions will be punished as crimes. Previously, administrative penalties were usually meted out.

Criminal offenses

China’s top court and procuratorate this week unveiled a new set of judicial interpretations for environmental offenses. The new interpretations, to take effect at the beginning of 2017, are widely considered an indication that judicial punishment of environment-related crimes will be strengthened.

The new judicial interpretation specifies that those who tamper with or fabricate monitoring data or interfere with the operation of monitoring equipment may be criminally prosecuted for seriously contaminating the environment and resources. Criminal liability could be extended to company workers, State Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) workers and/or any third party entrusted with monitoring environmental data.

If polluters are caught falsifying monitoring data, courts can rule that they had committed the crime of contaminating the environment, independent of the actual amount of pollutants discharged. Similarly, if companies saved over 1 million yuan (USD $144,000) by turning off pollution reduction equipment, they could be defined as having committed environmental pollution crimes as well.

Violators would face imprisonment of three to seven years with fines if their cases have particularly severe consequences.

Pollution in China

Air pollution is an increasingly contentious issue, with many cities having been hit frequently by severe smog, with pollution levels off the charts at times, over the past several years. Although China has already implemented significant legislation related to pollution, enforcement of this legislation has often been lax, with companies either falsifying data and/or bribing SEPA officials to maintain compliance.

Chinese courts nationwide handled 4,636 cases dealing with pollution, illegal treatment of solid waste and misbehavior by environmental officials between July 2013 and October 2016. This represents a big increase from the average of 20 cases a year before that, and speaks to a tougher attitude toward polluters.

The new interpretations also clarify punishments in cases involving treatment of hazardous waste and environmental impact assessments.

Specified penalties

“The new judicial interpretations on environmental crimes give tougher penalties for the following four behaviors:

1 Obstructing inspection of the environment or investigation of environmental events, in cases in which the behavior is not severe enough to be defined as disrupting public functions.

2 Discharging, dumping or processing hazardous waste including that with radiation, or pathogens of infectious diseases, or toxic chemicals, near hospitals, schools, residential communities or other regions where population is concentrated.

3 Discharging, dumping or processing hazardous waste including that with radiation, or pathogens of infectious diseases, or toxic chemicals, during a period of emergency response against air pollution or during investigation of environmental events or suspension of production.

4 Behavior under which companies that hold permits to process hazardous waste violate national rules for such handling.

Violators will face detention or imprisonment and fines. In cases with particularly severe consequences, violators will face at least 10 years in prison and fines.”

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