Dutch trial starts in Ivory Coast toxic waste case

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The Swiss-based multinational whose chartered ship dumped waste alleged to have killed 17 people in the Ivory Coast in 2006 goes on trial Tuesday with the boat's captain and four others.

This will be Trafigura's first time in the dock for the events, which saw caustic soda and petroleum residues on board the Probo Koala shown away from the Port of Amsterdam and redirected to Abidjan.

Also on trial in the Amsterdam court for breaking Dutch laws, will be a former Trafigura employee; the captain of the Probo Koala; the city of Amsterdam as port administrator; waste treatment company Amsterdam Port Services (APS); and its former managing director Evert Uittenbosch.

Trafigura denies any link between the waste and any casualties, but reached an out-of-court damages settlement with the Ivory Coast government in February 2007 for 100 billion CFA francs (152 million euros, 225 million dollars).

That settlement exempted it from legal proceedings in that country.

A court case in Britain was dropped after a 33-million-euro settlement for 31,000 plaintiffs was reached in September last year on the basis of an independent experts' report.

That report found no link between the waste and the 17 deaths and thousands of poisoning cases claimed by Ivory Coast lawyers.

But a United Nations report published last September found "strong" evidence linking at least 15 deaths and several hospitalisations to the 528 cubic metres of "slops" dumped on Abidjan city waste tips.

Trafigura is to be tried in the Amsterdam district court for breaking Dutch waste exportation and environment laws and for forging official documents. If convicted, it faces a fine of up to 1.34 million euros (1.66 million dollars).

"Trafigura knew that the waste could be dangerous for health or the environment, but did not say anything," prosecution spokeswoman Esther Schreur told AFP.

Naeem Ahmed, 43, a Trafigura worker who coordinated the waste treatment operation from London, faces the same charges as his employer, with a possible fine of up to 134,000 euros and 21 years in jail.

The ship's Ukrainian captain, 46-year-old Sergiy Chertov, risks the same penalty for allegedly falsifying documents and lying to Dutch port authorities about the nature of the waste that arrived at Amsterdam on July 2, 2006.

The waste, slops from the cleaning of its fuel transportation tanks, was pumped back into the ship after APS demanded a higher price for its treatment when it turned out to be more toxic than previously thought.

Trafigura, which declined to pay the higher price, denies it had asked the captain to lie about the waste.

The city of Amsterdam, APS and Uittenbosch, who can be jailed for six years, are charged for not having prevented the exportation of dangerous waste, according to Schreur.

The trial is expected to last five weeks.

© 2010 AFP

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