Tunisia: Personalities Arrested in Waste Deal

The "Dangerous" waste imported illegally from Italy has led to the resignation of the Minister of Environment and arrest of several top officials.

An unprecedented probe is currently going on in Tunisia with the Minister of the Environment Mustapha Aroui, as well as several executives of his ministry and of the customs placed under detention. Their arrest on Monday December 21, 2020 is linked to the illegal importation by boat of waste considered "dangerous" from the South of Italy. On Monday, hundreds of containers were seized and arrests of more than 282 officials. They were declared to be carrying plastic scraps for industrial recycling but were instead filled with mixed, putrid household waste.

Speaking to AFP, Jabeur Ghnimi, spokesperson for the Sousse court of first instance handling the case said those under detention are the director of the National Waste Recycling Agency (Anged) and top ranking custom officials at the Sousse port. He added that the waste in question contained household waste, the export of which is prohibited by Tunisian legislation as well as by international conventions, which deem them "dangerous". The waste was imported by a local company, Soreplast, just weeks after the company restarted its activities, with the sole authorization to recycle industrial plastic waste for export.

According to officials of the Communication Service of the Minister of Environment, Minister Mustapha Aroui's had never "signed any document" authorizing Soreplast to import waste. Though several attempts to get the Soreplast boss who is wanted by the court were fruitless, AFP on the other hand, obtained a copy of the initial request from the Tunisian company; on arrival of the containers, it requested authorization to "temporarily" import "post-industrial plastic waste in non-hazardous bales. To carry out sorting, recycling and re-exporting operations to European territory.

However, the contract signed by Soreplast with an Italian company based in the South of Naples, Sviluppo Risorse Ambientali Srl, specialized in the collection and treatment of waste explicitly stipulates having as objectives, the recovery (by Soreplast) of waste and their subsequent elimination in Tunisia. This implies according to a custom official who requested anonymity that Soreplast made a false declaration on the nature of the imported good.

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