Dutch court fines firm over Ivory Coast toxic waste

23rd July 2010, Comments 0 comments

A Dutch court Friday slapped a one million euro fine on multinational shipping company Trafigura for illegally exporting toxic waste to Ivory Coast that the West African nation says killed 17 people.

"The court sentences Trafigura to a fine of one million euros", equivalent to 1.3 million dollars, presiding judge Frans Bauduin said as he found the company guilty of breaking European waste export laws.

Switzerland-based Trafigura said it was disappointed by the ruling in the Amsterdam district court, its first court sanction for the events in Ivory Coast, and would consider an appeal.

It was also found guilty of concealing what the charge sheet referred to as the "harmful nature" of the waste on board the Probo Koala ship that arrived at the port of Amsterdam in July 2006 but was redirected to the Ivory Coast.

Trafigura "exported the waste ... to the state (Ivory Coast) without having done a thorough analysis of the port city of Abidjan's capacity to process the waste ... in a responsible way," said the judge.

Bauduin said the company had failed to provide "absolute clarity" about the nature of its cargo, but acquitted it of forgery.

The captain of the Probo Koala, 46-year-old Sergiy Chertov, was handed a five-month suspended jail term, while Trafigura employee Naeem Ahmed, who coordinated the operation in the port of Amsterdam, was fined 25,000 euros.

"The court cannot but conclude that Chertov was aware of the presence of caustic soda (in the slops) and knew its dangerous character, but that he did not report it," said Bauduin.

As for 43-year-old Ahmed, his "concealment of the true nature of the waste" had created a health risk.

Trafigura said the fine and convictions were "incorrect" and added that it was "saddened" by the conviction of Ahmed, who "did nothing wrong".

Rights group Amnesty Inernational welcomed the verdict.

The waste, it said, "had a huge impact on the lives of tens of thousands of people", and several dumping areas "are yet to be fully decontaminated".

On July 2, 2006, caustic soda and petroleum residues on board the Probo Koala were prevented from being offloaded for treatment in the port of Amsterdam and redirected to Abidjan, where they were dumped on city waste tips.

The waste, slops from the cleaning of fuel transportation tanks, was pumped back into the Probo Koala after it was found to be more dangerous than previously thought and waste treatment company Amsterdam Port Services (APS) demanded a higher price, which Trafigura declined to pay.

The court threw out a charge of failing to prevent the export of dangerous waste brought against the city of Amsterdam, which administers the port.

It imposed no sentence on APS or its former managing director Evert Uittenbosch, 60, both charged with violating environmental laws.

"This is the beginning of justice," Greenpeace spokeswoman Marietta Harjono said outside the court. "The next logical step is that Trafigura gets sued for the dumping in Ivory Coast."

The Amsterdam trial had related only to violations of European laws.

The company, which denies any link between the waste and casualties and has an independent experts' report backing its stance, reached out of court settlements for 33 million euros and 152 million euros in Britain and Ivory Coast that exempted it from legal proceedings.

But a United Nations report published last September found "strong" evidence blaming the waste for at least 15 deaths and several hospitalisations.

Ivory Coast claims the dumping caused 17 deaths and thousands of cases of poisoning.

© 2010 AFP

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