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Eternit asbestos

Former Eternit Executive, Shareholder Sentenced to Prison in Groundbreaking Asbestos Trial

A verdict in the groundbreaking trial over the Eternit asbestos disaster in Italy has been handed down, with a former executive and a shareholder each receiving 16-year prison sentences for their roles in the incident.

Swiss billionaire Stephan Schmidheiny, the former owner of the Eternit fiber cement company, and major shareholder Jean-Louis Marie Ghislain de Cartier de Marchienne were sentenced in absentia after they were found guilty of violating safety regulations and creating an environmental disaster.

Agence France-Presse (AFP) reports the disaster was responsible for more than 3,000 asbestos-related deaths. The families of these victims had waited anxiously for the trial for years.

“This trial will go down in history… but it will not bring my dad back,” Piero Ferraris, whose father died of lung cancer in 1988 after working in a local Eternit factory from 1946 to 1979, said following the verdict.

Sentence longer than usual due to continued fall-out

The crimes committed by Schmidheiny and de Cartier typically carry a maximum 12-year sentence, but prosecutors successfully argued that the effects of the asbestos disaster continue to affect victims in Italy, according to the news source.

The trial began in 2009 following a five-year investigation into the matter, and it represents the largest such case against a multinational company for its role in asbestos-related deaths. Eternit went bankrupt prior to asbestos being banned in Italy, AFP reports.

“I have never seen such a tragedy. It affects workers and inhabitants… it continues to cause deaths and will continue to do so for who knows how long,” prosecutor Raffaele Guariniello said during his closing speech in November.

Defense attorneys had argued the two men were not responsible for the asbestos disaster, according to Reuters.

Trial, verdict shed light on deadly effects of asbestos exposure

The Eternit trial was monitored carefully around the world by the asbestos community, particularly as the carcinogenic substance is still widely used in developing countries.

Exposure to asbestos, which was once prized for its resistance to fire and utility as an insulator has been known for decades to cause a number of serious illnesses, including lung cancer, asbestosis and malignant mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer.

The effects of these illnesses can be seen across the globe, as the World Health Organization estimates approximately 107,000 people succumb to these diseases each year.

Casale Monferrato Council Signs ‘Pact with the Devil’ Over Asbestos Contamination

It’s a good thing the mayor and town council of Casale Monferrato, Italy, weren’t presiding over the Nuremberg Trials following World War II, as it’s now clear that these individuals care little about serving justice to the parties responsible for severe crimes.

Reports indicate the town council, led by Mayor Giorgio Demezzi, has decided to accept a deal referred to by many as a “pact with the devil.” The deal involves an 18 million euro settlement offer from former asbestos executive Stephen Schmidheiny, who is on trial for his role in the asbestos contamination caused by the Eternit factory.

According to Laurie Kazan-Allen, the Coordinator of International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS), the council’s decision to accept the settlement was made more than two weeks before Schmidheiny’s deadline of December 31. A verdict in the case was scheduled to be handed down on February 13, 2012.

Church authorities back asbestos victims

The news of the settlement, which will reportedly protect Schmidheiny from liability in this case and any future asbestos transgressions in the town, has hit asbestos victims and their families hard.

A number of groups, from trade unionists to church officials, have expressed their support for these victims and publicly denounced the decision by the town council allowing Schmidheiny to skirt the ramifications of the legal system.

Kazan-Allen noted a spokesperson for the social department of the Church Dioceses said church authorities had “asked the Lord to give those who govern the City of Casale the courage and the judgement to pursue the common good, which is never the sum total of individual good or balancing the books, but something greater and more noble.”

Politicians choose euros over justice

The speed with which the Casale Monferrato town council and mayor accepted the settlement, coupled with the fact that they reportedly refused to show victims a draft of the proposal, suggests these politicians were blinded by the substantial sum of money.

Such a move comes at the expense of asbestos victims, many of whom have died as a result of illnesses such as lung cancer, asbestosis or malignant mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer. Many others are still suffering from the diseases, with treatment options limited due to the fact that diagnoses often occur too late.

As Kazan-Allen puts it, Casale Monferrato has accepted Schmidheiny’s “blood money,” failing to see the “human tragedy” that has occurred right in front of their eyes.

Eternit Seeks to Protect Itself, Shed Asbestos Exposure Blame

Eternit looks to shed asbestos blame in Italy An ongoing trial in Italy is the latest example of an asbestos company looking to skirt the legal system and absolve itself from blame at the expense of exposure victims.

In a recent blog post, Laurie Kazan-Allen, the Coordinator of International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS), noted that the “Great Asbestos Trial” involving asbestos conglomerate Eternit in Italy is beginning to show signs of corruption.

Specifically, Kazan-Allen wrote that lawyers for Stephan Schmidheiny, one of the two former Eternit executives being taken to court, have been engaging in secret negotiations with a number of municipalities that are directly involved in the case. With a three-judge panel expected to announce a verdict on February 13, the lawyers are seeking withdrawal of civic authorities from the case, which would undoubtedly have serious consequences for exposure victims.

Casale Monferrato offered millions by defendant’s lawyers

Casale Monferrato, the site of the recent international meeting dubbed “A World Without Asbestos” which sought to eliminate asbestos-related diseases around the world, is one town that has reportedly been offered a substantial amount of money from Schmidheiny’s attorneys.

According to Kazan-Allen, the town has been offered up to €20 million to settle the claim and withdraw “from this and any future trials (against Eternit) that it might be involved in.”

But Casale Monferrato is not alone, as the Mayor and town council of Cavagnolo agreed to a deal with the lawyers for €2 million for asbestos decontamination. As part of this “tombstone agreement,” the town said it would not bring any more legal action against the former Eternit executive even if more evidence was uncovered, Kazan-Allen explained.

Potential corruption taking focus away from victims

While the Mayor of Casale Monferrato has publicly stated the town would not consider an agreement similar to the one made in Cavagnolo, a source told Kazan-Allen that Casale’s town council is “refusing to show victims and unions the draft of the (proposed) agreement,” leading to more speculation that the municipality could ultimately give in.

Either way, the attention has been shifted away from the plight of the asbestos exposure victims in this case, many of whom are likely suffering from diseases such as lung cancer, asbestosis or malignant mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer.

Scientific evidence continues to substantiate the claims of these individuals, as the World Health Organization estimates approximately 107,000 people are killed each year around the world as a result of such asbestos illnesses.

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