MAC: Mines and Communities

Turin trial opens over asbestos deaths

Published by MAC on 2009-12-14
Source: Associated Press

Reputed environmentalist is in the dock

Last week, the trial opened in the Italian city of Turin of two Europeans who are being accused of contributing to the asbestos-related deaths of hundreds of former workers and residents. See:

One of those before the court is Stephan Schmidheiny, ostensibly one of the leading environmentalists to emerge in the past two decades.

There is a certain irony that Schmidheiny, and fellow industrialist Jean-Louis de Cartier, stood in the dock just as the climate change talks got underway in Copenhagen.

That summit is, to an extent, an inheritance of the 1992 WSSD, organised by Canada's' Maurice Strong - joined by Mr Schmidheiny.


Hundreds in Turin as trial opens for Swiss, Belgian men over asbestos deaths

 Associated Press

11 December 2009

ROME - Thousands of asbestos victims' relatives, activists and protesters converged on a Turin courthouse Thursday for the start of the long-awaited trial of a Belgian and a Swiss man accused of negligence in hundreds of asbetos-related deaths.

Stephan Schmidheiny of Switzerland and Jean-Louis de Cartier of Belgium were ordered to stand trial for their role as key shareholders in Eternit, a Swiss construction company that is alleged to have spread asbestos fibers over wide swathes of northern Italy by allowing powder left over from the production of roof coverings and pipes to waft through the air.

Prosecutors allege the two were ultimately responsible for the asbestos-related deaths of several hundred workers at Eternit factories and residents of neighbouring towns. They are charged with causing an environmental disaster and failing to take proper precautions and could face up to 12 years in prison.

Both deny any wrongdoing, and Italian news reports said neither attended Thursday's hearing, in the northern city of Turin.

Some 3,000 victims and their families have joined a civil lawsuit attached to the criminal proceedings. Thursday's hearing was largely devoted to registering the plaintiffs and to other procedural matters.

The ANSA news agency said the courtroom could not accommodate all the civil plaintiffs and that hundreds had to wait in an adjacent room. Meanwhile, outside the tribunal, about 100 protesters staged a rally. They brandished banners, including one that read: "Eternit: Justice."

The case centres around an Eternit plant in Casale Monferrato, a town near Turin, but also involves other plants.

Eternit closed its Italian operation in 1986, but former workers and people who lived near the plants have continued to fall sick as a result of the contamination that once spewed out from the plants, said prosecutor Raffaele Guariniello. He contends that Eternit attempted to hide the danger from the public.

Schmidheiny and Cartier do not deny that the deaths were caused by asbestos but claim they did everything they could to limit the risks and inform the public, said defence lawyers. The trial is expected to last up to two years. According to Turin daily La Stampa and other newspapers, a verdict might come as late as 2011.


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