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January 17, 2018

>ANSA-ANALISI Fresh hope for families of Eternit asbestos victi

>ANSA-ANALISI Fresh hope for families of Eternit asbestos victi

Former company owner could face charges over 263 asbestos deaths

(ANSA) – Rome, November 20 – Families of victims of deadly
asbestos poisoning took hope Thursday after prosecutors in Turin
completed a homicide probe into former Eternit owner Stephan
Schmidheiny that could see him face charges over 263 deaths,
said ANSA sources.
That came one day after Italy’s highest appeals body, the
Court of Cassation, overturned an 18-year prison sentence
against the Swiss tycoon, whose now-defunct Eternit ran several
asbestos cement plants blamed for more than 2,000 deaths.
Grieving families of victims, outraged over Wednesday’s
supreme court decision, took hope from the Turin case as well as
from government pledges on Thursday to change the statute of
limitations law that led to the annulment of the sole conviction
in the asbestos environmental disaster.
Schmidheiny had been charged with failing to provide
adequate safety measures at the plants, but the high court said
the case had timed out.
Schmidheiny has denied the charges.
In a statement Thursday, the Cassation Court added its
remit was to deal only with the issue of an asbestos
environmental disaster from 1986, the year an Eternit factory
closed, rather than with individual cases of illnesses and
deaths.
The objective “was to ascertain whether or not the disaster
occurred,” the Court said in a note.
Turin prosecutors opened three separate cases related to
the Eternit factories, including one involving murder
allegations against Schmidheiny.
The second case refers to
Italians who died after working in Eternit plants in Switzerland
and Brazil, and the third concerns a major quarry near Turin
that produced asbestos and was connected to Eternit.
Premier Matteo Renzi meanwhile said he would change Italy’s
statute of limitations, a promise supported by leaders of the
Lower House and Senate who said they reached an agreement on the
procedure for moving Renzi’s bill through parliament.
“If a case like Eternit is a timed-out crime, then we have
to change the rules of the game on the statute of limitations,”
Renzi told RTL radio station.
“We can’t have the nightmare of the statute of limitations
(in these cases).
You cannot deprive people of the demand for
justice,” Renzi said.
“I was struck, as an ordinary citizen, by the interviews
with the families (of the victims).
They made me shudder a
little”.
About 150 people belonging to an Eternit victims group
protested Wednesday outside the Cassation Court including many
from Casale Monferrato in Piedmont, and others from different
regions of northern Italy as well as people from Switzerland and
Brazil.
Their leader Romana Blasotti, 85, lost five family members
to asbestos-related diseases, which can often take many years to
appear.
One of the most common diseases, mesothelioma, can take
decades after contamination to make itself known, making
liability hard to prove.
“We want justice, and we believe that we will have it,
after 35 years of struggle,” said Blasotti, whose husband died
in 1983, followed by a sister, a niece, a cousin and a daughter.
“When we started our battle, we knew we had to do it for
our young people…but we did not succeed.
The death rate in
Casale continues at a rate of 50 to 60 deaths per year,” she
said.
Paolo Liedholm of Casale Monferrato, who lost his mother to
asbestos-related illness, was bitter about Wednesday’s decision,
saying people continue to die with no recourse.
“Now we have clearly established this: if you want to kill
someone in Italy the best means is asbestos because it is
legal,” he said.
He added that victims believe the peak in asbestos-related
deaths has not yet occurred because of the time it takes for the
disease to appear.
Asbestos-linked tumours have been reported among Eternit
staff, their families and people living near the factories who
were affected by asbestos dust in the air, while hundreds more
fell ill.
Employees and their families have long claimed that Eternit
did little or nothing to protect its workers and residents
living around its factories from the dangers of asbestos.
The Italian National Magistrates Association (ANM) said
Thursday that it has been calling for Italy’s statute of
limitations laws to be changed for years.
“Magistrates have been raising the problem of the statute
of limitations for years”, Rodolfo Sabelli, president of the ANM
said.

Read this article – 

>ANSA-ANALISI Fresh hope for families of Eternit asbestos victi

Swiss billionaire Schmidheiny Wins Asbestos Court Battle

Billionaire Stephan Schmidheiny was acquitted this week of complicity in 3,000 deaths related to the use of asbestos in factories formerly part of his chemicals empire, Eternit. Italy’s supreme court overturned a ruling which sentenced the Swiss entrepreneur to 18 years in prison stating the evidence in the case was out of date.

Schmidheiny had been fighting the case which wound its way through the Italian court system for years. In 2012, he was jailed in absentia for 16 years, a sentence that was raised by an appeals court to 18 years in 2013. Throughout the case, Schmidheiny who avoids the limelight, denied the charges stating once the perils of asbestos were known, he sold out of the business and was not running the factory during the period claimed in the deaths.

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“My group was heading toward bankruptcy as a consequence of the combined effects of asbestos-related problems and a major slump in construction markets. Thus I built my group virtually from scratch,” he wrote to Forbes in 2009 for a feature story.

Shmidheiny inherited the Eternit Group when he was 37 as the fourth generation of a Swiss industrial dynasty. Before he took full control, he had worked around the globe for his family’s Eternit Group, which manufactured a line of construction products that had begun in 1903 with asbestos-reinforced cement. At age 29, after toying with the idea to become a missionary, studying law and travelling abroad, he was called back to headquarters. That is when he began to face the company’s asbestos concerns. Schmidheiny had filters installed at Eternit factories to reduce dust in the air, beefed up employee training and began to move the company away from asbestos-based products. He notes that he himself was exposed to the mineral while working in his early 20s hauling sacks as a shift foreman at Eternit in Brazil. When Schmidheiny took full control of the company, he sold off most asbestos operations and diversified into other ventures, including the Latin American investment holding company, GrupoNueva, and the then ailing watch firm Swatch. (He sold off his Swatch shares after it recovered.)

In 2003 Schmidheiny focused more on his burgeoning philanthropic efforts. He placed $1 billion in business assets, including GrupoNueva, into a charitable trust, which its profits annually to help entrepreneurs across both Central and South America. In a 2012 interview with Forbes he said, “In keeping with the family tradition, my charitable activities first began in Switzerland where we supported – and continue to support – a broad range of activities e.g. in the field of conservation of the cultural heritage, protecting women’s and children’s rights, protection of the environment, to name just a few. In 1992 I had an experience as the founder of the Business Council for Sustainable Development around the UN conference of Rio that profoundly changed my outlook on life. Thus, I greatly expanded my philanthropic endeavors and put a major emphasis on promoting sustainable forms of development in Latin America.”

This article:  

Swiss billionaire Schmidheiny Wins Asbestos Court Battle

Italy court annuls conviction for Swiss billionaire in asbestos scandal

ROME (Reuters) – Italy’s top court has overturned an 18-year jail sentence for a Swiss billionaire convicted over his role in the country’s biggest asbestos scandal, saying too much time had passed since the alleged wrongdoing.

Stephan Schmidheiny was found guilty in 2012 of negligence at his company’s Italian factories in the 1970s and 80s, which eventually led to almost 3,000 asbestos-related deaths.

However, in a ruling that stunned relatives of the dead, Italy’s highest court annulled the verdict late on Wednesday, saying the statute of limitations had kicked in.

The decision means that the Swiss businessman will also escape having to pay millions of euros in fines and compensation ordered by Italian courts in 2012 and 2013.

Prosecutors in the original trial said Schmidheiny had not taken sufficient measures to protect the health of workers and nearby residents from the asbestos used at the Italian plants of his building material firm Eternit.

The factories had used asbestos in the production of cement. The plants closed in 1986, but workers and local residents continue to suffer the consequences, with Italy’s biggest union saying that the latest victim of an asbestos-related disease was only buried on Saturday.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said the ruling underscored the need to reform Italy’s notoriously snail-paced judicial system. “We need to ensure that trials take less time, and change the statute of limitations,” he told RTL 102.5 radio on Thursday.

Schmidheiny had been accused of causing an environmental disaster — a charge which expires under Italy’s statute of limitations. Prosecutors said they were now reviewing other possible legal avenues to bring the case back to court.

Schmidheiny’s spokesman called for all legal proceedings to be halted, saying the company had already paid “many tens of millions of euros” in compensation to the victims since 2008.

The company said Schmidheiny had never played an operational role in the management of its Italian activities and said it had only been the major shareholder in the Eternit unit for 10 out of its 80-year history.

According to prosecutors, Eternit’s products were used to pave streets and used as roof insulation around its plants in northern and southern Italy, resulting in years of exposure for the unsuspecting local population.

Asbestos became popular from the late 19th century onwards as a way to reinforce cement. But research later revealed that the inhalation of asbestos fibres can cause lung inflammation and cancer. It is now banned in much of the world.

(Reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing by Crispian Balmer)

Source:  

Italy court annuls conviction for Swiss billionaire in asbestos scandal

Asbestos poisoning victims want Yale honor revoked

NEW HAVEN, Connecticut (AP) — Victims of asbestos poisoning in Italy are urging Yale University to rescind an honorary degree given to a Swiss man later convicted of negligence in some 2,000 asbestos-related deaths.

Stephan Schmidheiny, former owner of Swiss construction company Eternit, was convicted in 2012 by an Italian court and sentenced to 16 years for his role in the contamination of sites in northern Italy. An appeals court upheld the conviction for negligence in thousands of asbestos-related deaths blamed on contamination from the company and increased his sentence to 18 years.

Another appeal is pending and Schmidheiny is not in custody. He has denied wrongdoing.

Yale awarded Schmidheiny an honorary degree in 1996, citing him as “one of the world’s most environmentally conscious business leaders,” and praised his efforts to create sustainable development, the New Haven Register reported.

Lawyer Christopher Meisenkothen, who represents the Asbestos Victims and Relatives Association, said what happened in Italy is the exact opposite of what Yale cited.

“It flies in the face of actual history. This is a matter of honor for the Italian victims,” Meisenkothen said.

Yale said a decision to revoke an honorary degree must be by the Yale Corporation, the university’s governing body.

“The decision to award the degree was made by a committee that considered his full record as a philanthropist who used his wealth to fund sustainable development in Latin America and elsewhere, and a path-breaking international advocate of change in the way businesses address environmental sustainability, as well as a businessman who inherited and dismantled a decades-old family asbestos processing concern,” the statement from Yale said.

Yale should at least appoint a faculty committee to review the matter and make a recommendation, Meisenkothen said.

“A lot of this information was not available to Yale at the time they awarded the degree,” Meisenkothen said. “Yale is not our adversary. We just want to give them information they didn’t have before, so they can do the right thing.”

Some alumni and faculty, including 1992 graduate Christopher Sellers, have also urged Yale to revoke the honor.

“It shames me as a Yale graduate to think Yale isn’t willing to look at what it did here,” said Sellers, now a history professor at Stony Brook University. “For me, it’s pretty clear that if Yale had known in 1996 everything we know today, it wouldn’t have honored Schmidheiny with this degree.”

___

Information from: New Haven Register, http://www.nhregister.com

Original article:  

Asbestos poisoning victims want Yale honor revoked

Swiss billionaire gets 18 years jail for Italian asbestos deaths

MILAN (Reuters) – A billionaire Swiss industrialist convicted for his part in Italy‘s biggest asbestos scandal had his jail sentence lengthened to 18 years on Monday, in a ruling campaigners said would set a precedent for work-safety lawsuits.

Stephan Schmidheiny, found guilty of negligence that led to more than 2,000 asbestos-related deaths, was also ordered to pay millions of euros in damages to local authorities, victims and their families by an appeals court in Turin.

The former owner of Swiss building material maker Eternit was found guilty in February last year and originally sentenced to 16 years in prison and ordered to pay other damages.

He was not immediately sent to jail – prison sentences in Italy are often not enforced until appeals processes, which can take years, are exhausted

The 65-year-old was not in court when the appeals judges rejected his appeal against the sentence and extended it on Monday.

A spokesman based in Zurich said the industrialist would now take his case to Italy‘s top appeals court and dismissed the ruling as “scandalous” and “absurd”.

The Turin court also dropped charges against Belgian Eternit shareholder and former company executive Jean Louis Marie Ghislain de Cartier de Marchienne, who died on May 21 aged 91.

A WORLD WITHOUT ASBESTOS

Relatives of the victims and hundreds of others filled the courthouse, some holding banners reading: “Eternit: Justice!”

“This verdict encourages the battle by victims and their families for a world without asbestos and without that thirst for profits that sacrifice human lives,” victims’ association Osservatorio Nazionale Amianto said.

Prosecutors had said Schmidheiny intentionally failed to install measures to prevent workers’ health being affected by asbestos at Eternit’s Italian plants, which closed in 1986.

More than 6,000 people – including former employees and residents of the four towns where the plants were located – are seeking damages in the case.

Compensation awarded by the court included 20 million euros to the Piedmont region and 31 million euros to the Casale Monferrato townhall where Eternit had its main Italian plant.

Prosecutors said the lack of safety measures led to the deaths of more than 2,000 people, mostly from cancer triggered by contact with asbestos, and thousands of other cases of chronic pulmonary disease, tumors and other illnesses over the past four decades.

They affected workers and residents of Casale Monferrato and Cavagnolo, two hill towns near Turin; the village of Rubiera in northern Italy; and the seaside town of Bagnoli, outside Naples.

Asbestos fibers became popular from the late 19th century onwards as a way to reinforce cement, often for roofing and cladding, as well as adding sound absorption and heat resistance.

Asbestos is now banned from building materials in much of the West, but is still being used as insulation in developing countries. The inhalation of asbestos fibers can cause lung inflammation and cancer, and symptoms do not tend to appear for many years.

(Reporting By Silvia Aloisi; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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Swiss billionaire gets 18 years jail for Italian asbestos deaths