Eternit asbestos trial opens in Italy

Eternit asbestos trial opens in Italy

14th December 2009, Comments 0 comments

Two shareholders in Swiss firm Eternit went on trial Thursday for negligence leading to 2,000 deaths from asbestos-related diseases.

Turin -- Two top former shareholders in the Swiss building materials firm Eternit went on trial Thursday for alleged negligence leading to more than 2,000 deaths in Italy from asbestos-related diseases.

Victims' relatives flocked the courthouse in Turin, northern Italy, as the long-awaited trial began following a five-year investigation.

So far 700 people have joined a class action lawsuit in connection with the trial, but victims' associations say the number could rise to 2,000.

Eternit's ex-owner, Swiss billionaire Stephan Schmidheiny, and former top executive Jean-Louis de Cartier, a Belgian baron, are being tried in absentia.

Prosecutors accuse them of bearing ultimate responsibility for breaches in work safety rules that led to the deaths of more than 2,000 people and sickened several hundred others.

The court provided three extra rooms for the public to follow the hearing on closed-circuit television.

A person walks past by banners attached on Turin's courthouse's fence on the first day of trial of two-former Eternit executives, on 10 December 2009

The victims -- who include employees as well as the residents of four Italian cities where the group had factories -- are expected to seek several hundred million euros in compensation.

Many illnesses or deaths were caused by Eternit's asbestos-based products such as home insulation, the plaintiffs charge.

The two defendants, whose lawyers say they have no direct responsibility in the case, face three to 12 years in prison if convicted.

Prosecutors say it is the biggest trial ever held on the effects of exposure to blue asbestos, a highly dangerous fibrous mineral that was banned in Italy in 1992.

"It's a world first. This trial will determine whether the judicial system is capable of handling such a complex case," said Jean-Paul Teissonniere, a French lawyer representing plaintiffs.

Schmidheiny has already reached an out-of-court settlement with some 1,500 people.

Eternit's Italian subsidiary went bankrupt in 1986, six years before asbestos was banned in the country over health concerns.

A woman walks past banners posted by the Swiss victim association on Turin's courthouse fence on the first day of trial of two-former Eternit executives

"I hope for a little bit of justice and that this will be an example," said Paola Bastianello, whose father, an Eternit employee, died in 1984.

Another plaintiff, Maria Assunta Prato, told AFP her husband died aged 49 simply from exposure to an Eternit product. "It's a terrible tragedy. We hope... they will be convicted for what they've done."

Text: AFP / Mathieu Gorse / Expatica

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