Stephan Schmidheiny, a billionaire Swiss industrialist and former owner of the Swiss fibre cement firm Eternit, and Jean Louis Marie Ghislain de Cartier de Marchienne, Belgian executive, were sentenced to 16 years in jail on Monday, February 13th 2012, by an Italian court and ordered to pay millions of euros in damages for negligence that led to more than 2,000 asbestos-related deaths. This is a verdict that could set a precedent for proceedings worldwide about safety in the workplace.
The two men were tried “in absentia”, which means to say that they never appeared in court during the trial that took two (2) years in this Turin, Italy courtroom to reach it’s conclusion. However, the lengthy trial ended with a roar. Relatives of the victims and hundreds of others filled three courtrooms within the courthouse, some crying, others applauding when the sentence was finally read. It took the presiding judge nearly three hours to present the verdict. Schmidheiny and de Cartier de Marchienne were found guilty of intentionally omitting to install measures to prevent health damage from asbestos at Eternit’s Italian plants, which closed in 1986. Health Minister Renato Balduzzi called the sentence “historic”, noting that asbestos was not only a local and national issue, but also an international one.
In addition to the Jail time, the defendants were ordered to pay damages to more than 6,000 people – including former employees and residents of the four towns where the plants were located. They were each awarded an average 30,000 euros ($40,000 USD). Compensation awarded by the court also included 25 million euros (Approximately 33.25 million USD) to Casale Monferrato, 20 million euros (Approximately 26.6 million USD) to the Piedmont region, and 100 million euros (Approximately 132.8 million USD) to the victims’ group AFEVA.
Stephan Schmidheiny issued a press release in response to the verdict. Cesare Zaccone, de Cartier de Marchienne’s lawyer said “We were not expecting this sentence,”. His client said in a statement he had “never been in charge of safety measures at Eternit SpA”. Both defendants deny any wrong-doing and have vowed to file appeals.
The United States has also handed out jail time for asbestos offenders. The EPA sent a strong message in 2011 when it announced that Bobby Joe Knapp, the former owner and operator of the Equitable Building in downtown Des Moines, Iowa, would be spending more than 3 years in prison for his role in the careless removal of asbestos from the building. The City Manager and City Supervisor for Elk City, Oklahoma, were sentenced to serve at the Big Spring Prison Camp in Texas for violating the Clean Air Act. On December 19, 2006, City Manager Guy R. Hylton, Jr., and Elk City Supervisor Chick Arthur Little received their indictments for forcing inmates to do renovation work on the Rock Island Railroad Depot without protective respiratory gear or other safety measures. To date, there has not been a case in the United States in which jail time was imposed upon the manufacturers of asbestos containing products.
Industrialists sentenced to jail in Italy asbestos trial – REUTERS
Swiss man to appeal in Italian asbestos case, lawyer says – CNN – International