Court ap­plies crim­i­nal law to data fraud

Pun­ish­ment no longer only ad­min­is­tra­tive, ac­cord­ing to new ju­di­cial in­ter­pre­ta­tions

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By ZHENG JINRAN and CAO YIN

Fal­si­fy­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal data to avoid pol­lu­tion reg­u­la­tions is a crim­i­nal of­fense, ac­cord­ing to a set of new ju­di­cial in­ter­pre­ta­tions on en­vi­ron­men­tal crimes formed by the top court and top procu­ra­torate and re­leased on Mon­day.

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

The court and the procu­ra­torate is­sued in­ter­pre­ta­tions on a num­ber of en­vi­ron­men­tal of­fenses. The new in­ter­pre­ta­tions, to take ef­fect on Jan 1, are widely con­sid­ered an in­di­ca­tion that ju­di­cial pun­ish­ment of en­vi­ron­ment-re­lated crimes will be strength­ened.

The ju­di­cial in­ter­pre­ta­tions spec­ify crimes that Chi­nese Crim­i­nal Law ap­plies to.

The change could af­fect com­pany work­ers, en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion work­ers and any third party en­trusted with mon­i­tor­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal data. 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.

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

“It’s the first time that fal­si­fy­ing mon­i­tor­ing data is con­sid­ered a crime, which could lead to more ef­fec­tive de­ter­rence and pun­ish­ment of such vi­o­la­tions,” Yan Maokun, di­rec­tor of the re­search depart­ment of the Supreme Peo­ple’s Court, said on Mon­day.

Air pol­lu­tion has be­come a

hot is­sue since many cities have been hit fre­quently by se­vere smog, with pol­lu­tion lev­els off the charts at times, es­pe­cially dur­ing the win­ter.

“But it’s hard to gather ev­i­dence since pol­luted air moves quickly, so the new in­ter­pre­ta­tions have listed stip­u­la­tions to make the rules more us­able,” Yan said.

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.

Also, if com­pa­nies saved over 1 mil­lion yuan ($144,000) by turn­ing off pol­lu­tion re­duc­tion equip­ment, they could be de­fined as hav­ing com­mit­ted en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­lu­tion crimes as well.

“The new rules could solve prob­lems with the cri­te­ria for sen­tenc­ing,” Yan said.

Fal­si­fy­ing data has be­come an acute prob­lem. In March, equip­ment in an air qual­ity mon­i­tor­ing sta­tion in Xi’an, Shaanxi prov­ince, was found cov­ered with cot­ton yarn to fil­ter the air and lower the pol­lu­tion read­ing to avoid puni­tive ac­tion. Five en­vi­ron­men­tal of­fi­cials were found to have been in­volved and were de­tained.

“The re­vised En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Law (ef­fec­tive on Jan 1, 2015) al­lows us to give man­agers ad­min­is­tra­tive de­ten­tion if they fal­sify data, but the new in­ter­pre­ta­tions can do more to de­ter pol­luters,” said Bie Tao, poli­cies depart­ment head at the Min­istry of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion.

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.

It is a big in­crease from the av­er­age of 20 cases a year be­fore that, and speaks to a tougher at­ti­tude to­ward pol­luters, the top court said.

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

The new rules could solve prob­lems with the cri­te­ria for sen­tenc­ing.” Yan Maokun, di­rec­tor of the re­search depart­ment of the Supreme Peo­ple’s Court

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