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Defendant in Ivorian toxic waste trial blames Trafigura affiliate

File image of protests against the toxic waste. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Staff Writers
Abidjan (AFP) Oct 1, 2008
The leading defendant in a key toxic waste trial Wednesday said he was misled by an affiliate of the Dutch multinational that brought the poisonous liquid to Ivory Coast in 2006.

Salomon Ugborugbo, head of the Ivorian company Tommy, which dumped more than 500 cubic metres of waste "slops" at public sites across Abidjan, suggested a local subsidiary of Dutch company Trafigura had refrained from telling him they posed a major danger.

The waste killed 17 people and sickened thousands, some of whom still complained of problems.

Local affiliate head Kablan Nzi "knew very well they were dangerous products and he ought to have contacted the department of toxic material in the (Abidjan) port," Ugborugbo told the court, claiming he had been "betrayed."

He spoke on the second day of the trial against a dozen people accused of involvement in the toxic waste scandal. They face a raft of charges including poisoning, complicity to poison and breaking environmental and public safety laws.

Ugborugbo hired truck tankers to dump more than 500 cubic metres of waste "slops" from the Panamanian-registered cargo ship, the Probo Koala, at the city's public sites in August 2006.

The so-called slops were in fact a mix of petroleum residues, sulphur and caustic soda which had accumulated in the ship.

Exposure to the waste caused respiratory difficulties, nausea and other medical problems among the local population, prompting entire neighbourhoods to evacuate.

However, none of the directors of Trafigura, the Dutch multinational which operated the ship which brought the waste to Ivory Coast, will face trial.

Trafigura escaped prosecution after reaching a 152-million-euro (215-million-dollar) settlement with the Ivorian government in February last year in return for indemnity against prosecution. The company has never admitted liability.

Ugborugbo who is charged with poisoning, claimed ignorance about the contents of the slops.

"I am not a chemist," he said, adding he believed Nzi who said the biggest problem with the slops was their smell.

Like other Trafigura officials Nzi, who heads local affiliate Puma Energy, has not been charged but was cited as a witness. He did not show up during the first day of the trial on Monday, however.

Six other people are accused of complicity in the affair, including the former head of Abidjan's port authority, two shipping agents employed by Trafigura to oversee the Probo Koala's sojourn in Abidjan, and three customs officials who supervised the pumping out of the ship's slops.

Five others, including the transport ministry official responsible for Abdijan port, are charged with breaking environmental and public safety laws.

The accused face life imprisonment if convicted.

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Pollution trial opens in Ivory Coast
Abidjan (AFP) Sept 29, 2008
The trial opened in Ivory Coast on Monday of 12 people charged with involvement in a 2006 toxic waste scandal which killed 17 Ivorians and poisoned thousands.

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