Dutch judgment in Ivory Coast toxic waste case

21st July 2010, Comments 0 comments

A Dutch court will hand down judgment Friday in the first trial of a Swiss-based company whose chartered ship dumped waste alleged to have killed 17 people in Ivory Coast in 2006.

Multinational Trafigura, waste treatment company Amsterdam Port Services (APS), and the Ukrainian captain of the Probo Koala ship were tried with three others for allegedly breaking environment and waste export laws on Dutch territory.

They all pleaded not guilty before the Amsterdam district court. Trafigura risks a fine of up to 2.1 million euros (2.7 million dollars).

"We are happy that four years after the fact, Trafigura has finally been brought before a judge," Marietta Harjono, spokeswoman for environmental group Greenpeace, told AFP.

"But there can only be real justice when Trafigura is prosecuted for the events in the Ivory Coast." This trial was about alleged violations of European law.

Caustic soda and petroleum residues on board the Probo Koala were prevented from being offloaded on July 2, 2006 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 APS demanded a higher price for treatment as it was more toxic than previously thought.

Trafigura declined to pay the increased price.

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.

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

Dutch judges have yet to decide on a bid by Greenpeace to have those responsible for the waste dump tried in the Netherlands for crimes committed on Ivorian soil.

In the current case, the prosecution asked the Amsterdam district court to impose a two-million-euro fine on Trafigura.

It sought a one-year jail term for Trafigura employee Naeem Ahmed, 43, who coordinated the operation in the port of Amsterdam, and four months for the Ukrainian captain of the ship, Sergiy Chertov, 46, for allegedly falsifying documents and lying about the nature of the waste.

For APS former managing director Evert Uittenbosch, 60, the prosecution sought a six-month jail term, half of it suspended, for violating environmental laws.

APS faces a 250,000-euro fine for the same violation, and the city of Amsterdam, which administered the port, 150,000 euros for not having prevented the exportation of dangerous waste.

The head of the Tommy company which dumped the waste from the Probo Koala in Ivory Coast was given a 20-year jail term by an Abidjan court in October 2008.

© 2010 AFP

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