Prosecutors aim for tougher environment laws

Updated: 2014-02-28 10:08

By Zhang Yan (China Daily)

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The top procuratorate has announced a new nationwide campaign targeting environment-related crimes and seeking to combat official malpractice or corruption in facilitating such crimes.

Zhang Bencai, spokesman for the Supreme People's Procuratorate, said at a news conference on Thursday that the new campaign would start in March and last for the rest of the year.

He called on procuratorates to pay special attention to cases involving the environment and pollution during this period.

"Crimes involving serious environmental damage harm public safety and property, hinder the healthy development of the economy, and affect social harmony and stability," he said.

Wan Chun, director of the investigation and supervision department at the SPP, said prosecuting departments will investigate major polluting industries, including textiles, papermaking, chemicals and steelmaking, focusing on several key areas, including Zhejiang, Hunan, Hubei and Guangdong provinces.

He said prosecutors will thoroughly investigate malpractice by administrative organs, such as environmental protection bureaus and public security bodies, including tardiness in reporting or punishing such crimes.

"Sometimes, in order to protect the local economy or attain good GDP performance, some environmental protection and law enforcement officers have covered up crimes or reduced punishments," he said.

Figures provided by the SPP show that in 2013 prosecuting departments supervised the transfer of 3,984 suspects involved in 3,148 crimes from environmental protection departments to public security bodies. Meanwhile, prosecutors supervised the arrests of 5,409 suspects charged in 4,290 crimes.

In a typical successful case in June, the former director of Changzhou Shixin Chemical Co in Jiangsu province was charged, along with six other suspects, with environmental pollution by the local prosecuting department.

The seven suspects allegedly discharged chemical wastewater onto local farmland and dumped it down drains in Chuzhou, Anhui province.

After receiving a report, prosecutors of Nanjiao district people's procuratorate in Chuzhou had the local environmental protection bureau transfer the case to a public security body for criminal punishment.

In recent years, the deterioration of China's ecological environment has caught the attention of Party leaders and legislators, who have put forward opinions and sped up legislation to instruct governmental authorities at all levels to take action.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Public Security, the Supreme People's Procuratorate and the Supreme People's Court have issued many notices to investigate environment-related crimes and undertake prosecutions.

"The key issue is to investigate relevant job-related crimes, including accepting bribes, dereliction of duty and malfeasance, and root out those groups of officials providing the criminals with protection," said Chen Zhengyun, deputy director of the duty-related crime prevention department under the SPP.

But he acknowledged there are practical difficulties in coping with such crimes. Compared with other criminal cases, victims are often difficult to identify, and it is often difficult to find witnesses or informants.

Moreover, it is often difficult to secure reliable evidence.

"In many cases, when we find the evidence, the polluted water sources have already been diluted and so it's difficult to establish the level of pollution and toxic ingredients," Chen said.

According to Hong Daode, a law professor at China University of Political Science and Law, apart from pressing such cases, prosecutors should notify local Party committees, legislative bodies and governments to ensure that administrative and law enforcement sectors prevent misconduct.

"Meanwhile, we will speed up legislation for connecting administrative penalties with criminal punishment and effective investigation and punishment of lawbreakers," he said.

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