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Eternit owners risk 20 years jail sentence

6 July, 2011At a court hearing in Turin the public prosecutor demanded a 20 year jail sentence for the owners and top management of the multinational Eternit Group for wilfully and maliciously causing an ecological disaster that resulted in numerous deaths from asbestos.

ITALY:  On July 4 at the 51st court hearing in Turin Stephan Schmidheiny, a 64 year old Swiss billionaire and Louis de Cartier de Marchienne, an 89 year old Belgian baron, owners of the Eternit group, the asbestos-cement company with plants in Europe, Africa and South America, were charged for wilful failure to protect their employees and factory neighbours, resulting in thousands of deaths from asbestos.

Specifically, the asbestos magnates were charged with wilful and deliberate environmental disaster by polluting and scattering the asbestos killer fibres and deliberate and wilful failure to implement precautions in the work place. Public prosecutor Raffaele Guariniello also made three additional demands: permanent disqualification from any public office, ban on contracts (and negotiation) with a public administration or agency and disqualification from any company management position for ten years for the defendants.

The Turin trial is the first time an asbestos related criminal lawsuit is considered in Europe. According to the investigation of the Turin Prosecutor's office it concerns almost 3000 victims including workers who were exposed to asbestos while working at the four Italian Eternit plants in Cavagnolo, Casale Monferrato, Rubiera near Reggio Emilia and Bagnoli, near Naples, and those who lived near the plants. The plant in Casale Monferrato, in Piedmont, is responsible for 70 per cent of the victims. The alleged offenses were committed from 1952 to 2008.

All three IMF affiliates in Italy contributed to the hearing through their national centers CGIL, CISL  and UIL, together with the Italian Association of Relatives of Victims of Asbestos (AFEVA). They declared in a joint statement their confidence that "the conclusion of this trial (this autumn) will be a historic event that will increase our understanding of the quality of economic and industrial development, so that there may be justice in our country and beyond. We have waited for thirty years, and so have all those who still have to fight in three-quarters of the world where asbestos is still extracted or used, leading to further hundreds of thousands of illnesses and deaths of workers and citizens still largely unaware of the danger or criminally deceived."

Text of the joint statement in Italian is available here.